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

Banking, Prepaid Debit Cards
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American Express offers a handful of prepaid debit cards. The three different versions of the Serve prepaid debit card — the basic Serve, Serve FREE Reloads and Serve Cash Back — have slightly varying features and come with budgeting tools and low fees.

Depending on the card, a reload fee or a monthly fee may still apply, but you won’t have to worry about the excessive fees and limitations typically found in prepaid debit products.

American Express Serve may be right for you if:

  • You don’t qualify for a traditional bank account, but want a close alternative.
  • You want to avoid most fees associated with prepaid debit cards.
  • You want to stick to a budget.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best prepaid debit cards

American Express Serve prepaid debit cards


Pro: No monthly fee with $500 direct deposit.

Con: No added features.


Pro: Free card reloading options.

Con: $4.95 monthly fee.


Pro: 1% cash back on all purchases.

Con: $5.95 monthly fee.

At a glance


American Express Serve

American Express Serve FREE Reloads

American Express Serve Cash Back

Card purchase

$0 online, up to $3.95 in retail locations

Monthly fee
(none in NY, TX, VT)

$1, waived with monthly direct deposit of $500



Reloads (no fee for online bank transfers and loading via direct deposit)

Up to $3.95 (varies by retailer)

$0 at CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart and some 7-Eleven locations

Up to $3.95 elsewhere

Up to $3.95 (varies by retailer)




1% cash back on all purchases

Mobile check deposit, direct deposit or checking/savings transfer



$0 at MoneyPass ATMs, $2.50 at non-MoneyPass ATMs (ATM owner fees may apply)

Online bill pay


Send and receive money to other Serve cardholders


Foreign transaction fee


Customer experience

American Express Serve prepaid debit cards offer a variety of free features that other prepaid products often charge for.

Cardholders aren’t charged for pausing recurring transfers, adding or transferring money to “subaccounts” for their kids or another payee, replacing cards, using an in-network ATM or contacting customer service. Cards also come with a “reserve” that functions much like a savings account, where you can set aside money for future goals or expenses.

Other fees

One of the highest fees for AmEx Serve’s prepaid debit cards is for the Cash Pickup service provided by money transfer company Ria, through which you can withdraw cash beyond the ATM withdrawal limit and pick it up at a Wal-Mart. This fee can cost up to $9.49 per withdrawal.

Many options, straightforward fees

Unless you live in New York, Texas or Vermont, your card will carry a monthly fee. The basic Serve card’s fee is the lowest, and avoidable with a $500 monthly direct deposit. The FREE Reloads card carries a $4.95 monthly fee, but you’re able to reload cash at no cost. The Cash Back card offers cash back rewards, but that might not outweigh the $5.95 monthly fee.

If you want to avoid fees completely, the BlueBird prepaid debit card by American Express might be what you’re looking for.

Still, all three American Express Serve options made NerdWallet’s list of the best prepaid debit cards. Weigh the options and choose the one 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:

This article was updated June 24, 2016. It was originally published Aug. 18, 2015.

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