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Out of 81 Prepaid Debit Cards, Find the One for You.

Prepaid debit cards come loaded with charges, from monthly fees to ATM fees to fees for using the card. Answer a few questions to the left, and we'll figure out which one will cost you the least money.

Remember: prepaid debit cards don't improve your credit score! If you're looking to build or rebuild credit, consider a secured credit card. Also keep in mind that prepaid debit cards are rarely cheaper than traditional checking accounts.

Unsecured Credit Cards for Bad Credit

There are no good options for unsecured credit cards for people with bad credit, despite whatever the marketing material might say. 

Truth is, if you have bad credit, you’re pretty much stuck. Either you go with a secured credit card, or you’ll have to pay higher fees. Be careful: You may see advertisements for products that don’t build credit, like prepaid debit cards.

Your options if you have bad credit:

Secured credit card: If you have enough saved up to make a deposit of $200-$500, we highly suggest that you shoot for a secured credit card (or if you don’t, we advise that you save up to make the deposit). Secured credit cards require an upfront deposit, but will help you build credit and “graduate” to an unsecured credit card. They often have annual fees in the realm of $25-$50, but that isn’t terrible if you’re looking to build credit.

Prepaid debit cards: You’ll see these advertised a lot in a search for “unsecured credit cards.” However, these are NOT credit cards. You can’t spend money you don’t have, and you won’t build up your credit score. There are perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting a prepaid debit card, but building credit or getting a loan isn’t one of them. Watch out for prepaid cards that are misleadingly interspersed among credit cards.

High-fee, unsecured credit cards: Your last option, if you still want to get a secured credit card, will probably cost you a lot of money. Two big-name providers of unsecured credit cards are First Premier and First Progress. We refuse to participate in the referral programs of these banks, or to link to them directly, but you can find them via Google.

Calculate Prepaid Card Fees

Calculate Account Fees

Will you use direct deposit?
Yes
No
How much will you deposit each month?
Hint: Typically twice your bi-weekly paycheck.
$0
How long will you keep the card?
1 year

How long will you keep the card?

We use this information to calculate the impact of activation and cancellation fees.

Calculate Usage Fees

How many purchases will you make each month?
Purchases where I punch in my PIN:
4
All other purchases:
5
Total
9

How many purchases will you make each month?

A PIN transaction is a purchase where you enter your four-digit PIN, such as when you choose "debit" at the grocery store checkout terminal or gas pump.

A signature transaction is any purchase where you don't enter your PIN. This includes choosing "credit" at the checkout terminal, paying the check at a restaurant, or making a small purchase that does not require a signature.

How many ATM withdrawals will you make each month?
In-network ATM withdrawals:
2
Out-of-network ATM withdrawals:
0
Total
2

How many ATM withdrawals will you make each month?

When you withdraw money from an ATM, you can potentially be charged two fees: one by the owner of the card, and one by the owner of the ATM. But thankfully, there are ways to avoid those fees.

Many prepaid and traditional debit cards have a network of ATMs that you can withdraw from without incurring a fee from the ATM owner. These are called in-network withdrawals, and they mean you only pay the card withdrawal fee (if there is one).

But if you withdraw from an ATM that your card isn't associated with (out-of-network), you have to pay an ATM surcharge ($2.60 on average) on top of any card fees, unless your card reimburses out-of-network ATM fees.

How many ATM balance inquiries will you make each month?
1

How many ATM balance inquiries will you make each month?
Many prepaid debit card issuers will charge you a fee if you look up your card balance at an ATM.
How many online bill payments will you make each month?
2

Calculate Reload Fees

How many times will you make a cash reload each month?
2

How many times will you make a cash reload each month?

Loading cash onto your reloadable prepaid debit card usually requires buying a physical "reload pack" like a MoneyPak at a store.

A cash reload usually costs somewhere between $1-$5.

How much will you load each month, excluding direct deposit?
$500

More Sorting Options

Compare To A Checking Account

I want to include checking accounts in my results.
Yes
No
How often do you incur overdraft fees each year?
0
How often do you incur overdraft fees each year?

You overdraw on your account when you spend more than your balance. For example, if you have just $1 in your account but you pay for a $2 coffee, the bank can decide to approve your transaction and charge you an overdraft fee.

Remember, though, that you have to opt in to overdraft protection. You can always opt out of overdraft protection if you do not wish to incur large fees everytime you overdraw your account.

How often do you use a check cashing service each month?
1
How often do you use a check cashing service each month?

You typically can't deposit a personal check straight into your prepaid debit card – you have to pay someone to cash the check, then buy a cash reload pack and use that to load your card. By the time you're done, you've paid a check cashing fee and a retail reload fee.

Most checking accounts, on the other hand, let you cash or deposit your checks for free.

How much do you pay each time you cash a check?
$1.50
How much do you pay each time you cash a check?

Check cashing centers usually charge anywhere from 1% to 3% of a check's face value, to cash a check.

More Choices

Include student cards.
Include area-specific cards.
I want an additional card.
I want an additional card.

Some prepaid debit cards let you add a card to your account (for your kids, your spouse, your babysitter...). Some give you the extra card for free, others charge a one-time card fee, and still others charge you an ongoing monthly fee. Many checking accounts don't have this option, which is why you may see the traditional checking account choices disappear from your results.

Want to get your card listed?
Shoot us an email at cards@nerdwallet.com.

Credit unions:
Get your credit cards, checking accounts and more listed! Drop us a line at cu@nerdwallet.com.

Not sure what to look for?

Looking for a prepaid debit card? There are a number of reasons people want to avoid a checking account: monthly maintenance fees, overdrafts, and so on. But while it’s possible to find a low-fee prepaid debit card, we also suggest going to your local credit union for a free checking account, which might be cheaper in the long run.

If you’re set on going prepaid, we suggest that you use:

  • A card that lets you reload with cash and withdraw money for free. One of the best options for this is the American Express Bluebird, just so long as you use direct deposit. If not, you’ll get hit with an ATM withdrawal fee.
  • A card with a low monthly fee but no per-transaction fees, if you plan on using the card for a long time (or plan to use it heavily). These are often offered by big banks like US Bank or Chase.
  • A card that doesn’t have a celebrity’s name on it. Seriously.

But we do recommend that you first consider a no-fee checking account, or look to your local credit union for free checking.


More from our blog:
  • ZombieTacticalResponse

    X girlfriend with the help of her dad, ruined my credit. Now I cant even get a BB&T prepaid card and I don’t want to throw away $4-$6 per month on a prepaid card (plus the ridiculous fees of signature purchases and restrictive ATM usage). THIS NERDWALLET SITE Shows the usage rates but 95% of these shown fees, are outdated, and you see real fees when you click the link for each card. AmEx is not accepted by many places and that’s why I need a visa or master card.
    Now more about me:
    I was in surgery during the time my credit cardS were used without my permission by her dad. Trying to convince all these banks that I wasn’t at fault was like talking to fish.
    I HATE banks-they are miserable low scum who act as if you are less than a life form if you have no credit, and are fast to take that credit from you. Since surgery I have and still am disabled for the rest of my life, so >>I<< have no income in my name.

    • Bob

      the american express card charges no monthly fees

    • analyzethis

      Try Gobank.

  • analyzethis

    T-Mobile just rolled out their Mobile Money card. No fees for customers even with a closed account apparently as long as there is still a number associated. Free cash deposits at any T-Mobile store and reloads using Visa Readylink or Reloadit are reimbursed.42,000 free ATMs. Free Billpay no monthly fee etc Just google it.

  • bluemagic

    is there a card exactly like H&R block Emerald prepaid card that has the same Feat nothing different.

    • analyzethis

      There are much better cards than that. GoBank, Amex Serve, Chase Liquid, Regions Now, PNC SmartAccess, US Bank Contour, etc

      There is really no advantage to the H&R Block card.

      • bernardiscaring

        Amex serve and Gobank are not allowing new customers to register on like before,do you also notice this or theres a way out about this?

        • analyzethis

          You can get a GoBank start up card at any Rite Aid, Kmart, 550 Barnes & Nobles, and I believe 7-Eleven. They have stands with just their cards on them.

  • RonaldHenderson

    I have an HR Block emerald card that I have been using since 2011 to direct deposit my wife and I income tax return, but im curious is there another card similar to HR Block that allows both my wife and I to direct deposit our income tax return to the same debit card???

    • johnysouth

      You guys file separately so you need a card that will allow the separate deposit

      • RonaldHenderson

        Do u have a card in mind

        • johnysouth

          123 rewards allows you deposit any names but it’s up to 3k my sister deposit her tax on my card and we have different last name.

          • RonaldHenderson

            Yeah I’ve heard of it, so do u recommend it or some other card

    • CHRIS

      DID THE 123 REWARD WORK FOR YOU

  • Donna Moyer

    Is there any reloadable prepaid visa card that allow credit card or debit card payment? Please i need update

    • analyzethis

      Amex Serve does. I’ve tried it and it credits instantly but the card you use has to have your name on it and the same billing address.

      • bernardiscaring

        is there anyone that does not requires your name and billing address on the credit or debit card for payments?

  • Sternness

    The best pre-paid debit card is the one that never seems to be mentioned on these debit card rating sites, not even consumer reports. Its Paypal debit card. Only one sub account is allowed but you can get student sub account cards that work almost the same. I know from experience that American Express-Serve & Bluebird-are the worst ever. Awefull, ignorant people with unintelligible accents, and no knowledge of the product whatsoever, work in customer service. And the money takes 8 days to transfer making the card worthless half the time. Paypal has only American customer service personnel. No fees, as far as the way I use it. You need to have a Paypal account.

    • Darkness is what I am called

      My mouth fell open as I read your comment, because it was the polar opposite of my experience. To make sure I knew what I was talking about, I confirmed it online. Paypal has a few different cards, and I wonder if you might have been referring to the Paypal debit card, and not the Paypal Prepaid card. I was surprised by what you wrote, because there are quite a few fees associated with the Paypal Prepaid card, including a monthly fee of $4.95, and they charge $1.95 any time you use an atm, in network, or not. Another greedy thing they do, is that you can only withdraw $325.00 per transaction, so if you have to withdraw more than that, you get charged that $1.95 each time (and I have never heard of an atm dispensing $5 before). The funniest part of your comment was about the customer service representatives. I have NEVER called customer service, that I have NOT had to explain their own rules to them, and there has NEVER been a time that the person did not have a thick, foreign accent. They may well indeed be American, but I don’t believe that English is their first language.

    • Champaign

      I totalllllly agree about the blue bird comment. I currently have the blue bird card and I am desperately trying to switch to another card. Their customer service is horrible and there are far too many restrictions on the card. There is only a 500 dollar ATM withdrawal limit a day and only 2000 dollar withdrawal limit a month. Some might say that sounds OK. I assure you it isn’t! It seems everywhere I go, NO ONE accepts American Express cards. And if they do, we have to do DEBIT! That is a problem due to the fact that the blue bird cats can only be proceeded as CREDIT! You also can not send money to someone UNLESS they to have a blue bird card! If you try to reload your card you will have to purchase a 5 dollar vanilla reload pack! I highly suggest NOT APPLYING FOR THIS CARD!

    • analyzethis

      That card has lots of fees for everyday usage.

  • MobLinz®

    It’s time to innovate, without unnecessary greed. @moblinz will allow two family members direct deposited tax returns, ( comment below) we also will push the daily spending limits to the max, on our TurboCharged accounts. ATM fees out of network will carry a $1.00 charge, per $1000. We also feature our No interest Loans to our ACH direct deposit members. You can shorten your pay period as often as you like through out the year. Our fee structure is not set to nickel and dime our user, it is very minimal, and only used to innovate. We pay very close attention to comments about the industry. Keep posting we will keep innovating. @moblinz silent launch.

  • BridgetTweeter

    Has anyone every asked the prepaid cards to waive of lower their fees??? What would be the best way to get them to do this? They are a business and wanting to keep their customers I would think they would accommodate just a bit.

    • analyzethis

      Why not just use one that has no fees to begin with?

  • go joe

    does any one knows what card let you get a direct deposit with someone else name on the deposit

    • Michelle Rex Lucas Jr.

      If your getting something like SSI for a dependant you can use Netspend.com but just double check to make sure

  • Alison

    Does anyone knows a prepaid card that let you change atm pin automated . I forget things easily and calling bank most time to verify my Identity is getting embarrassing . please someone recommend one for me to go for. thanks.

    • http://billcollectorshateme.wordpress.com/ Bill Collectors Hate Me

      Try the Paypal Prepaid Debit Mastercard. I think you will be very happy with all that it has to offer.

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