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7 Best Prepaid Debit Cards

July 8, 2019
Banking, Banks & Credit Unions, Prepaid Debit Cards
Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2018
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What are prepaid debit cards?

A prepaid debit card can serve as a budgeting tool or an all-out replacement for a bank account — and the best prepaid cards offer convenience while charging few fees.

Prepaid cards are easy to get. There’s usually no credit check, and they’re often available even if you can’t get a bank account because of a bad banking history. Unlike with a credit card, you load funds onto prepaid cards before use.

Some companies also issue mobile-optimized bank accounts that don’t require a squeaky-clean banking or credit history — and they often cost less than prepaid cards. Skip ahead to read about these low-fee alternatives.

Prepaid debit cards vs. regular debit cards

You don’t need a bank account to get a prepaid debit card, but it’s a requirement for a regular debit card, which is linked to your checking account. For prepaid debit cards, you load the card with money when you get it, then use it to make purchases. For regular debit cards, the funds for your payments are taken directly from your checking account as you make payments.

» More from NerdWallet: What is a debit card?

Here are our top prepaid debit cards based on fees and features.

» Looking for a place to keep extra money? Explore our best savings accounts

  • Bluebird by American Express: Cheapest.
  • Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa: Cheapest.
  • Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card: Best for ATM withdrawals.
  • Wells Fargo EasyPay Prepaid Card: Best for free reloads.
  • Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard: Best for budgeting.
  • FamZoo Prepaid Card: Best for budgeting.
  • Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard: Best for budgeting.
  • Chime: Best cheap prepaid alternative.
  • Simple: Best cheap prepaid alternative.

Cheapest
American Express

at American Express,

Member, FDIC

Bluebird by American Express

  • No monthly fees; free ATM network; great budgeting features.
  • Jump to details
Movo®

at Movo®

Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card

  • No monthly fees; free ATM network; instant transfers between cards.
  • Jump to details
Best for ATM withdrawals
Fifth Third Bank

at Fifth Third Bank,

Member, FDIC

Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card

  • One of the biggest free ATM networks among prepaid cards; $4 monthly fee that’s easy to waive.
  • Jump to details
Best for free reloads

Wells Fargo EasyPay Prepaid Card

  • One of the biggest, deposit-friendly networks of U.S. ATMs and branches; $5 monthly fee.
  • Jump to details
Best for budgeting
Akimbo

at Akimbo

Akimbo

FamZoo

at FamZoo

FamZoo

  • Multiple subaccounts for kids; free ATM network; $2.50-$5.99 monthly fee.
  • Jump to details
Greenlight Financial Technology

at Greenlight Financial Technology,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Greenlight

  • Subaccounts for kids, store-specific spending controls; $4.95 monthly fee.
  • Jump to details
Banking: Top alternatives to prepaid
Chime

at Chime,

Member, FDIC

Chime

Simple

at Simple,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Simple

Bluebird by American Express

Cheapest

American Express

at American Express,

Member, FDIC

Bluebird, issued by American Express and in partnership with Walmart, offers more than the average prepaid debit card, and you can load and spend money without paying fees.

But Bluebird does have limits when it comes to merchant acceptance, and it doesn’t allow cash back at retailers.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fees and no costs for online activation or inactivity; no credit check required.
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free at ATMs in the MoneyPass network; $2.50 fee at other ATMs, plus any ATM operator fee.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, debit card transfer, card-to-card transfer, mobile check deposit (with a third-party fee for instant processing), cash load at Walmart or other stores. (Retailers other than Walmart may charge up to $3.95.)
  • Other features: Check writing, a separate “set-aside” account for savings and up to four subaccounts for family members.
  • Downsides: No cash back at retailers and no transfers from bank accounts. The card is issued by American Express, which isn’t accepted everywhere that Visa and Mastercard are.

» Learn more about how prepaid debit cards work

Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card

cheapest

Movo®

at Movo®


Most prepaid debit cards either charge you each month or each time you make a purchase, but the Movo Virtual Prepaid Card does neither. The exception is if you go more than three months without activity; then a $4.95 inactivity fee is charged per month until there’s activity. A “virtual” element lets you buy things online, and there’s a physical card for in-person purchases, ATM withdrawals and cash back at retailers. Movo also has a free ATM network.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fees and no costs for activation; $4.95 inactivity fee; no credit check required.
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free at 6,000 ATMs in the Visa Plus Alliance network; $2 fee at other ATMs, plus any ATM operator fee.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit; bank account transfer; withdrawal from PayPal balance; mobile check deposit (with a third-party fee for instant processing); crypto-facilitated transfer (converting cryptocurrency such as bitcoin to cash in a Movo account via blockchain-based MovoChain, for a fee of 2% and $2 per transaction); cash load at retailers with Visa Readylink, MoneyPak and Reload @ Register locations, such as Walgreens or Safeway (for a fee set by the retailer).
  • Other services: Online bill payments are free. You can also create one-time secondary virtual cards (“MovoCoins”) for free with their own card numbers. These cards can protect your main account number during transactions. Movo can be used with Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay as well as for giving kids allowances via MovoCoin.
  • Downsides: Free ways to reload the card, such as bank and PayPal transfers, can take two to three business days before funds are available. The card can’t be used to load funds on Venmo.

» Looking for a traditional spending account? Check out NerdWallet’s best free checking accounts.

Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card

Best for ATM withdrawals

Fifth Third Bank

at Fifth Third Bank,

Member, FDIC

Fifth Third’s Access 360° prepaid debit card takes part in Allpoint’s massive U.S. network and has access to over 50,000 ATMs. This card is available in the 10 states where there are Fifth Third branches, which is the only place you can get the card.

  • General fees and features: $4 monthly fee that’s waived with $500 or more in deposits monthly or having a Fifth Third checking account; no costs for activation or inactivity; no credit check required (but Fifth Third will check your banking history).
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free at Fifth Third ATMs and the Allpoint ATM network; $2.75 fee at other ATMs, plus any ATM operator fees.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, bank transfer, cash load at Fifth Third branch or ATM.
  • Other services: Card can have joint owners.
  • Downsides: There’s no access to a nationwide retail network for adding cash; the card’s not available in every state; and the card doesn’t have a separate savings feature.

Wells Fargo EasyPay Prepaid Card

Best for free reloads

Wells Fargo’s prepaid debit card takes advantage of free reloads of cash and checks via the bank’s massive network of over 13,000 ATMs and about 5,500 branches in 36 states. There are banks that give access to bigger ATM networks, but Wells Fargo’s network has an edge by allowing its customers to reload, or deposit, cash and checks. Live customer support is available by phone 24/7.

  • General fees and features: $5 monthly fee; no cost to activate card, no inactivity or account closure fees; no minimum credit score needed, but a “soft” credit inquiry is required (learn about “soft inquiries“).
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: $2.50 at non-Wells Fargo ATMs, plus any ATM operator fees.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, bank transfer (from a Wells Fargo account), mobile check deposit, adding cash at Wells Fargo ATMs and branches.
  • Other services: At-a-glance spending report with visuals, activity alerts, free cashier’s checks and money orders.
  • Downsides: The monthly fee can’t be waived; Wells Fargo doesn’t disclose daily maximum purchase or ATM withdrawal limits until you receive a card.

Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard

best for budgeting

Akimbo

at Akimbo

The Akimbo card allows up to five secondary cards either for family members or budget categories such as gas or groceries. Akimbo doesn’t charge a monthly fee, but it does charge for the first five PIN-based purchases per month — that’s when you select “debit” at a store checkout and punch in your PIN — up to a monthly maximum of $4.95.

But Akimbo doesn’t belong to an ATM network, so any ATM use results in a fee. It’s cheaper than many prepaid debit cards’ out-of-network ATM fees, but it’s still not ideal.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fee and no costs for activation; $5.95 fee if card remains inactive after a year; no credit history required.
  • Purchases: 99 cents for each of the first five purchase transactions using a PIN per month (up to $4.95); no fee for signature-based purchases.
  • ATM withdrawals: $1.98 per withdrawal, plus any ATM operator fees.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, card-to-card transfer, bank transfer, mobile check deposit, adding cash at a retailer in the Mastercard rePower or Green Dot Reload @ the Register network (up to $5 retailer fee).
  • Other services: Up to five secondary cards, auto-transfers for allowances, real-time activity alerts, free and fast card-to-card transfers.
  • Downsides: The 99-cent fee for PIN-based purchases; no free access to ATMs.

FamZoo Prepaid Card

best for budgeting

FamZoo

at FamZoo

FamZoo is a family-friendly prepaid Mastercard that lets parents become virtual bankers for their kids, even those younger than 13. Four cards can be part of one monthly plan, but more can be added for a one-time $2 fee per card. From the website or app, you can send allowances, split payments, see balances and activity across all cards and set up text and email alerts.

There’s also free access to the MoneyPass network of over 32,000 ATMs nationwide. When you use an ATM without the MoneyPass logo, you may be charged a fee from the ATM operator, but FamZoo doesn’t charge its own fee.

  • General fees and features: $2.50 to $5.99 monthly subscription fee, based on whether you pay some monthly fees in advance; no costs for activation or inactivity; no credit check required.
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free, but ATM operator fees can apply outside of the MoneyPass network.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit; bank transfer; PayPal transfer; PopMoney transfer (for a fee); add cash at retailers like 7-Eleven and Walgreens that participate in the Reload @ the Register, MoneyPak and Mastercard rePower networks (up to $6 retail fee).
  • Other services: Multiple accounts under one plan, free and instant FamZoo card-to-card transfers, ability to lock and unlock FamZoo cards, budgeting tools.
  • Downsides: Maximum monthly fee is higher than average for prepaid cards and no mobile check deposit feature.

Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard

best for budgeting

Greenlight Financial Technology

at Greenlight Financial Technology,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Greenlight stands out for a feature that other prepaid cards lack: store-specific spending controls. Parents can preapprove what stores their kids spend money at, so $300 earmarked for school supplies can only be spent at a campus bookstore, for example. The prepaid card also offers real-time activity alerts, free card-to-card transfers for allowances and remotely locking cards in case they’re lost.

A Greenlight account can have up to five subaccounts, so it works for a family. Given low purchase and withdrawal limits, it’s best as an online budgeting tool instead of a bank account replacement.

  • General fees and features: $4.95 for the parent’s card (free for linked cards); no costs for activation, inactivity or account closure.
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: No fees from Greenlight, but ATM operator fees may apply.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, debit card transfer, bank transfer.
  • Other services: Up to 5 subaccounts, no international ATM withdrawal fee.
  • Downsides: No checks or cash can be deposited; the daily purchase maximum per family account is $1,000 and daily ATM withdrawal limit is $100, which are much lower than average for prepaid cards.

Low-fee alternatives to prepaid cards

The difference between prepaid debit cards and checking accounts is starting to blur, as many have similar features and services.

Mobile-optimized bank accounts fit in this middle ground — like most prepaid debit cards, many have no credit check; unlike prepaid cards, many are linked to a bank account. Below are details on two mobile accounts that have even fewer fees than almost all prepaid debit cards.

Chime

BANKING: top alternative to prepaid

Chime

at Chime,

Member, FDIC

Chime isn’t a prepaid debit card or a traditional bank account but a free “spending account” in the Visa payment network. This account has many of the same functions as a checking account, but it doesn’t come with paper checks. Through the app, though, you can request that checks be mailed to a recipient, even yourself, for free.

You can also open a linked Chime savings account and set up automatic transfers.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fee and no costs for activation or inactivity; no credit check.
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free at over 38,000 ATMs in the MoneyPass and Visa Plus Alliance ATM networks; $2.50 at other ATMs, plus any ATM operator fee.
  • Deposit methods: Direct deposit, bank transfer, debit card transfer (though limited), mobile check deposit, add cash at retailers in the Reload @ the Register network (up to $5 retailer fee).
  • Other services: Optional savings account. Chime has two automatic savings programs: one where 10% of every paycheck automatically goes into the savings account and the other where your purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar and the rounded-up change goes to savings. You can also receive instant transaction alerts and lock your debit card if you lose it.
  • Downsides: The out-of-network ATM fee.

Simple

BANKING: TOP ALTERNATIVE TO PREPAID

Simple

at Simple,

Deposits are FDIC Insured

Also a mobile-optimized bank, Simple builds budgeting into the user experience. It has a Safe-to-Spend balance, which starts with your available balance, then subtracts scheduled bills and customized savings goals. Simple charges almost no fees, not even if you use an ATM out of its network. If you want a physical checkbook, there’s a $5 fee for 25 checks.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fee or cost for opening an account or for inactivity; no credit check.
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: No fees from Simple, but ATM operator fees may apply for non-Allpoint ATMs.
  • Deposit methods: Direct deposit, bank transfer, PayPal transfer, deposit by mail, mobile check deposit.
  • Other services: Safe-to-Spend balance, savings goal tracking, visuals for spending trends, instant transfers between Simple accounts. Checks can be printed and mailed for you for a fee.
  • Downsides: No cash deposits are accepted, so you have to get a money order and deposit it within the Simple mobile app.

Best prepaid debit cards and alternatives: Summary

Account/cardMonthly fee# of free ATMs
Akimbo Prepaid Card$0None
Bluebird by American Express$025,000
Chime bank account$038,000
FamZoo Prepaid Card$2.50-$5.9925,000
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card$455,000
Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard$4.95None
Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card$06,000
Simple bank account$055,000
Wells Fargo EasyPay Prepaid Card$513,000

METHODOLOGY

We looked at 44 reloadable prepaid debit cards offered by some of the biggest banks, credit unions and prepaid debit card issuers. Where multiple card plans existed, only the basic monthly fee plan was considered.

We analyzed four categories for each card: general fees and features, purchases and withdrawals, reload fees and options, and other services such as bill pay and savings accounts. The cards that made this list had the best combination of these categories. Some cards in this roundup have nonbank program managers that partner with banks. Regardless, all the cards’ issuers are banks that insure consumers’ money through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. No cards above have overdraft fees.

Prepaid debit cards that we considered included:
ACE Elite Visa Prepaid Debit Card, AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid Card, American Express Serve, BBVA ClearSpend Card, Bluebird by American Express, Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card, Green Dot Prepaid Visa Card, Mango Visa Prepaid Card, Netspend Prepaid Card, PayPal Prepaid Mastercard, RushCardPrepaid Visa Card, Walmart MoneyCard.

We also looked at four alternative, or non-traditional, bank accounts: Chime, GoBank, Moven, Simple.

What the ratings mean:

— Among the very best

— Very good; only minor caveats for most customers

— Good; issues that might make a difference to some customers

— Fair; make sure strengths and weaknesses are a good match for you

— Poor; proceed with great caution

(or below) — Best to avoid

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