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NerdWallet’s Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2017

Banking, Prepaid Debit Cards
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best prepaid debit cards
Best overall
Bluebird
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at Bluebird
Bluebird by American Express

Best for purchases and withdrawals
Kaiku
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at Kaiku
Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card

Fifth+Third+Bank
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at Fifth Third
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card

Best for reloads
Chase Liquid

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at Chase Bank
Chase Liquid Card

Best for budgeting
Bluebird
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at Bluebird
Bluebird by American Express

BBVA Compass
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at BBVA Compass
BBVA Compass ClearSpend Prepaid Visa Card

Best for savings
Mango Money
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at Mango Money
Mango Visa Prepaid Card

A prepaid debit card serves as either a replacement for a checking account or a budgeting tool — and the best give you convenient features while charging few fees.

Prepaid debit cards are easy to get, since most of them don’t require a credit check. They’re also available to people who have a bad banking history and can’t get a new bank account. But these cards don’t build credit. For that, you’d want to consider a secured credit card.

To build your credit, you’d also want to make sure you track your credit score. Improving your score gives you the option of more cards and accounts from which to choose.

» MORE: What you should know about prepaid debit cards

If you need a way to manage finances, especially to avoid overspending, a prepaid card can be a solution. No card is entirely without fees, but the benefits may outweigh those small costs. Here are our favorite prepaid debit cards.

Best overall: Bluebird by American Express

4.5 stars out of 5

Bluebird
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at Bluebird
Bluebird, issued by American Express and in partnership with Wal-Mart, offers much more than the average prepaid debit card and charges almost no fees. There are no monthly fees and no costs for activation or inactivity. You get features such as check writing, a subaccount for savings, free ATM access, shared accounts for family members and a mobile app with two-factor authentication. This combination is rare among prepaid debit cards.

You can avoid all fees for routine use, but there are costs for withdrawals at ATMs outside of the MoneyPass network and at Wal-Mart using Ria’s cash pick-up service. Bluebird is in the American Express payment network, which has 7.3 million U.S. merchant acceptance locations, compared to Visa’s and MasterCard’s 9.8 million each. So you might find businesses that won’t take your card.


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Best for purchases and withdrawals: Kaiku and Fifth Third Access 360°

Kaiku Visa Prepaid Card

4.5 stars out of 5

Kaiku
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at Kaiku
Kaiku gives you free access to the Allpoint network, one of the biggest surcharge-free ATM networks, with over 55,000 ATMs worldwide. There’s no fee for foreign transactions, either. The card, issued by The Bancorp Bank and managed by Kaiku Finance, also comes with a strong suite of web features, including online bill pay and transfers from bank accounts and PayPal. You can use the card at merchants that accept Visa debit.

There’s a $3 monthly fee that you can avoid by loading $750 or more monthly, and a $3 fee for withdrawals outside the Allpoint network. But there are no fees for making purchases, getting the card or inactivity.

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Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card

4.5 stars out of 5

Fifth+Third+Bank
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at Fifth Third
Like Kaiku, Fifth Third’s Access 360° prepaid debit card also takes part in Allpoint’s U.S. network and has access to over 45,000 ATMs overall.

This card is not available in all states, though. You’re only able to open it at one of Fifth Third’s branches, which are in 10 states.

The card is accepted by merchants in the MasterCard network; there are no fees for making purchases or adding money. The monthly fee is $4, but this can be waived if you load at least $500 monthly on the card or if you have a Fifth Third checking account.

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Best for reloads: Chase Liquid Card

4.5 stars out of 5

Chase Liquid

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at Chase Bank
Chase’s prepaid card gives you free access to over 16,000 Chase ATMs in 26 states, and over 11,500 of those ATMs accept cash and check deposits free of charge. In contrast, many prepaid debit cards rely on networks involving retail stores that generally charge a fee for reloads.

While its strong network for free withdrawals and reloads is a plus, the Chase Liquid must be opened at one of Chase’s branches, which are only in 23 states. It also has a $4.95 monthly fee that can only be waived if you have a high-end Chase checking account.

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Best for budgeting

Bluebird

4.5 stars out of 5

Bluebird
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at Bluebird
Bluebird provides its cardholders with budgeting features, including a way to view transactions by different spending categories in a color-coded pie chart. You can set up real-time alerts to get emails or text messages when your balance dips below a certain amount. The prepaid debit card makes it easy to save with a SetAside Account, which is a separate place to store money that can’t be readily used for purchases.

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BBVA Compass ClearSpend Prepaid Visa Card

4.0 stars out of 5

BBVA Compass
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at BBVA Compass
The regional bank BBVA Compass provides a stellar budgeting feature with its ClearSpend prepaid debit card. After one month, your transactions get automatically tracked and put into general categories, such as groceries and transportation. From there, you can customize a budget and set up real-time transaction alerts to avoid overspending on any one type of category.

The ClearSpend card has a $4 fee the first time you add money, but there are no monthly fees. The caveat, though, is that this card is only available in the seven states where BBVA Compass is located: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas. This covers a third of the U.S. population.

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Best for savings: Mango Visa Prepaid Card

4.0 stars out of 5

Mango Money
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at Mango Money
The Mango prepaid debit card, provided by Mango Financial and Sunrise Banks, lets you open an interest-bearing savings account in tandem with the card. Normally, you can find high-yield savings accounts at online banks, but it’s rare to find a prepaid card that offers interest. With Mango, you can earn an annual percentage yield of 6% if you receive $800 in direct deposits monthly, or earn 2% APY without direct deposits, which is still high.

The catch is that these rates only apply to your first $5,000. After that, the rate is 0.10% APY for your next $5,000. The card can only handle a $10,000 balance overall, which is competitive with other prepaid options. Mango has a $3 monthly fee and ATM fees of $2 for withdrawals and $1 for balance inquiries. There’s no access to a free ATM network.

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Best prepaid debit cards: Summary

CardMonthly fee# of free ATMs
BBVA Compass ClearSpend Prepaid Visa Card$01,000
Bluebird by American Express$024,000
Chase Liquid Card$4.9516,000
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card$445,000
Kaiku Visa Prepaid Debit Card$355,000
Mango Visa Prepaid Card$3None

Spencer Tierney is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: spencer@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

Updated Dec. 20, 2016.


METHODOLOGY

We looked at 53 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 like bill pay and savings accounts. The cards that made this list have 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.

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

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