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American Express Serve Prepaid Debit Card Review: More Choices, Fewer Fees

Banking, Prepaid Debit Cards
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American Express Serve Prepaid Debit Card Review: More Choices, Fewer Fees

NerdWallet’s rating: 4.5 / 5.0
4.5 stars out of 5

The American Express Serve prepaid debit card offers helpful features without hidden fees. There are three different versions of the Serve prepaid debit card: the basic Serve (reviewed here), Serve Free Reloads and Serve Cash Back.

With lower fees, the basic Serve card is the better choice of the three. If you’re looking for a close alternative to a bank account, this card offers many services and features that you might find at a bank.

The bottom line

  • A low-fee alternative to a traditional bank account.
  • A feature that lets you set money aside for future goals.
  • A large ATM network that allows free withdrawals.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best prepaid debit cards

Our Ratings
General fees4.5 stars out of 5
Purchases and withdrawals4.5 stars out of 5
Reloads3.5 stars out of 5
Other services4.5 stars out of 5
Overall4.5 stars out of 5

Read on for more details about the Serve card’s fees and services.

General fees

4.5 stars out of 5
4.5 / 5.0
The American Express Serve prepaid debit card has some of the lowest fees compared to other prepaid debit cards. Over a year, the monthly maintenance fees add up to just $12. For residents of New York, Texas or Vermont, it’s free.

ProsCons
  • A low $1 monthly fee.
  • No purchase fee when you order the card online.
  • No inactivity fee.
  • A $500 monthly direct deposit is required to waive the $1 fee.
  • Up to $3.95 when you buy the card at a retail location.

Purchases and withdrawals

4.5 stars out of 5
4.5 / 5.0
While other prepaid debit cards might charge fees to make certain transactions or withdrawals, the American Express Serve card doesn’t. You have the freedom to do more without the excessive fees.

ProsCons
  • No fees for signature or PIN-based purchases.
  • The MoneyPass network of 24,000 ATMs allows for fee-free withdrawals.
  • A $2.50 out-of-network ATM fee.

Reloads

3.5 stars out of 5
3.5 / 5.0
You can avoid fees by using electronic features to reload the card. You can load cash for a fee at thousands of locations: CVS, Dollar General, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven.

ProsCons
  • Free reloads with direct deposits, mobile check deposits and online bank transfers.
  • The card can be reloaded with cash for up to $3.95 (fee varies by retailer).

Other services

4.5 stars out of 5
4.5 / 5.0
The Serve card offers many free features that other prepaid cards charge for. For example, it offers “reserve,” which is similar to a savings account that allows recurring transfers to build toward a future goal.

Cardholders aren’t charged for adding or transferring money to “subaccounts” for their kids or another payee, replacing cards or other services listed below.

ProsCons
  • Free online bill payments.
  • Free balance inquiries online, through the app or at MoneyPass ATMs (fees by out-of-network ATM operators may apply).
  • Customer service available 24 hours a day via phone.
  • A budgeting tool that tracks expenses.
  • A “reserve” that functions like a savings account to set aside money for future goals.
  • No check writing option.

Many options, straightforward fees

The American Express Serve prepaid debit card made NerdWallet’s list of the best prepaid debit cards because of its low fees and many services.

If you want to avoid fees completely, the BlueBird prepaid debit card by American Express is also a good option.

Weigh the options and choose the prepaid card that makes sense for you. If you decide to go with an AmEx Serve card, skip the purchase fee and order your card online for free.

Melissa Lambarena is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.Email: mlambarena@nerdwallet.com.Twitter: @LissaLambarena.

Updated Nov. 30, 2016.


Ratings methodology

NerdWallet’s overall rating is a weighted average of each category: general account fees, transactions and funds access, reloads and other services. Factors we consider, depending on the category, include fees, ATM access, reload options, breadth of merchant acceptance, account features and limits, user-facing tech and customer service. Several Nerds contribute to prepaid debit card ratings to ensure consistency and accuracy.

What the ratings mean:
5 stars out of 5 — Among the very best
4.5 stars out of 5 — Very good; only minor caveats for most customers
4 stars out of 5 — Good; issues that might make a difference to some customers
3.5 stars out of 5 — Fair; make sure strengths and weaknesses are a good match for you
3 stars out of 5 — Poor; proceed with great caution
2.5 stars out of 5 (or below)— Best to avoid