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Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2017

Banking, Banks & Credit Unions, Prepaid Debit Cards
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NerdWallet’s Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2017

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

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 preload funds onto prepaid cards before use.

If you want to try a prepaid debit card to avoid overspending or overdraft fees, we’ve rounded up our top choices based on fees and features — as well as two money-saving alternatives to prepaid debit cards.

Cheapest
Bluebird
Read full review
on NerdWallet
Bluebird by American Express

  • No monthly fees, free ATM network, great budgeting features
  • Jump to details
Movo
Learn more
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
Learn more
at Fifth Third
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
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Best for reloads
Chase Liquid

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at Chase Bank
Chase Liquid Card

  • Big free network for cash reloads; $4.95 monthly fee that’s difficult to waive
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Best for budgeting
Akimbo
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at Akimbo
Akimbo

FamZoo
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at FamZoo
FamZoo

  • Multiple subaccounts for kids, free ATM network; $2.50-$6 monthly fee
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Best cheap prepaid alternatives
Xoom
Learn more
at Chime
Chime

Simple
Learn more
at Simple
Simple

Cheapest

Bluebird by American Express

Bluebird, issued by American Express and in partnership with Walmart, offers much more than the average prepaid debit card and charges no regular fees. Of the 44 prepaid debit cards NerdWallet analyzed, the average monthly fee was $4.67.

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

  • General fees and features: No monthly fees and no costs for 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, mobile check deposit in the app (for a third-party fee for instant processing), cash load at Walmart or other stores (retailers other than Walmart may charge a fee up to $3.95)
  • Other features: Check writing, a separate “set-aside” account for savings, up to four shared subaccounts for family members, Bluebird card-to-card transfers and a mobile app with two-factor authentication. This combination is rare among prepaid debit cards.
  • Downsides: No cash back at retailers and no bank transfers. The card is issued by American Express, which isn’t accepted everywhere that Visa and Mastercard are.

» MORE: How prepaid debit cards work

MOVO Virtual Prepaid Visa Card

Movo
Learn more
at Movo
Most prepaid debit cards either have a monthly fee or a fee every time you make a purchase, but the Movo Virtual Prepaid Card has neither. The “virtual” element is your ability to make purchases online, but there’s also a physical card for purchases, ATM withdrawals and cash back at retailers. Movo has many services, including a free ATM network, but making bill payments or funding the card with debit card transfers results in fees.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fees and no costs for activation or inactivity; 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, and $1 fee for declined ATM transactions
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, bank account transfer, withdrawal from PayPal or Venmo balance, debit card transfer (for a fee), cash load at retailers with Visa Readylink locations such as Walgreens or Safeway (up to $4.95 retailer fee)
  • Other services: Online bill payments and free, instant Movo card-to-card transfers. You can also create one-time secondary virtual cards (“MovoCoins”) with their own card numbers. These cards can protect your main account number during transactions.
  • Downsides: Each bill payment costs 75 cents. Free ways to reload the card, such as bank transfers, can take two to three business days before funds are available.

Best for ATM withdrawals

Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card

Fifth+Third+Bank
Learn more
at Fifth Third
Fifth Third’s Access 360° prepaid debit card takes part in Allpoint’s massive U.S. network and has access to over 45,000 ATMs. This card is available in the 10 states where there are Fifth Third’s 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
  • 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

Best for reloads: Chase Liquid Card

Chase Liquid

Learn more
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 checks for deposit free of charge. In contrast, many prepaid debit cards rely on networks involving retail stores that generally charge a fee for reloads. But the Chase Liquid must be opened at a Chase branch, available only in 23 states, and the monthly fee is hard to waive.

  • General fees and features: $4.95 monthly fee that’s only waived if you have a Chase Premier Plus Checking or other high-end account; no costs for activation or inactivity; “soft” credit check may occur
  • Purchases: No fees
  • ATM withdrawals: Free at Chase ATMs; $2.50 at other ATMs, plus any ATM operator fees
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, bank transfer, Chase ATMs that accept cash or checks, Chase’s mobile check deposit
  • Other services: Free online bill pay and free money transfers via Chase QuickPay that take minutes to other Chase customers and other banks. For any banks that don’t accept real-time payments, delivery can take days.
  • Downsides: The Chase Liquid must be opened at a Chase branch, which isn’t available in every state; the card doesn’t let you add cash at retailers; and there’s no separate savings account

Best for budgeting

Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard

Akimbo
Learn more
at Akimbo
The Akimbo card, issued by Minnesota-based Sunrise Banks, allows up to five secondary cards either for family members or for any individual who wants to budget using multiple cards. Akimbo has no monthly fee but charges for the first five PIN-based purchases per month, up to $4.95, meaning when you select “debit” at a store checkout and punch in your PIN number.

But Akimbo doesn’t belong to an ATM network, so any ATM use results in a fee. It’s cheaper than many out-of-network ATM fees among prepaid debit cards but 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: Fee of 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, bank transfer, mobile check deposit, add 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, free and fast card-to-card transfers
  • Downsides: The 99-cent fee for PIN-based purchases; no free access to ATMs

FamZoo Prepaid Card

FamZoo
Learn more
at FamZoo
FamZoo, issued by Four Corners Community Bank, is a family-friendly prepaid Mastercard that lets parents become virtual bankers for their kids, even those younger than 13. Four or more cards can be part of one monthly plan. From the website or iOS mobile 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 25,000 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, which varies 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 network (up to $4.95 retail fee)
  • Other services: Multiple accounts under one plan, free 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, no Android app and no mobile check deposit feature

Best cheap prepaid alternatives

The difference between prepaid debit cards and checking accounts is starting to blur, with many of the same features and services found on both. 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. Here are two mobile accounts that have even fewer fees than almost all prepaid debit cards.

Chime

Xoom
Learn more
at Chime
Chime isn’t a prepaid debit card or a traditional bank account but a free “spending account,” issued by the Bancorp Bank and 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 — with a 10% bonus offer — and set up automatic transfers. Like some prepaid debit cards, Chime lets you receive direct deposits up to two days earlier than you would at a typical bank.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fee and no costs for activation or inactivity; no credit check
  • Purchases: No fees
  • ATM withdrawals: Free in the MoneyPass ATM network; $2.50 at other ATMs, plus any ATM operator fee
  • Deposit methods: Direct deposit, bank transfer, PayPal transfer, mobile check deposit, add cash at retailers in the Reload @ the Register network (up to $5 retailer fee)
  • Other services: Optional savings account and access your direct deposit up to two days early. 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. At the end of every week, newly deposited change receives a 10% bonus, letting you earn up to $500 a year.
  • Downsides: The out-of-network ATM fee

Simple

Simple
Learn more
at Simple
Also a mobile-optimized bank, Simple builds in budgeting as part of how you view your account balance. It has a Safe-to-Spend balance, which starts with your available balance and then subtracts scheduled bills and customized savings goals. You know exactly what you can spend. Simple also charges no fees at all — not even if you use an ATM out of its network.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fee or cost for opening an account or for inactivity; a “soft” credit check applies, but this does not include reviewing your credit score or payment history
  • 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, 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.
  • 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
Chase Liquid Card$4.9516,000
Chime bank account$025,000
FamZoo Prepaid Card$2.50-$5.9925,000
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card$445,000
Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card$06,000
Simple bank account$050,000

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

Updated July 11, 2017.


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 Compass ClearSpend Card, Bluebird by American Express, Chase Liquid, 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, including:

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