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Netspend Prepaid Debit Card Review: Fees Add Up Fast

Banking, Banking Basics, Prepaid Debit Cards
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netspend prepaid debit card

NerdWallet’s rating:

NetSpend
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at NetSpend
The Netspend prepaid debit card has a nationwide network and an interest-bearing savings account, but its fees can add up quickly each month.

Like competitors Green Dot and Bluebird, Netspend accepts new customers without requiring a credit check or a spotless ChexSystems record.

But some customers have had serious issues. Netspend settled in March with the Federal Trade Commission over claims that the company falsely advertised that customers would have immediate access to money loaded on cards and blocked many customers from accessing their money. Under the settlement, Netspend will provide at least $53 million in monetary relief, which includes $40 million in customer account deposits previously unavailable and $13 million in fees.

The settlement affects certain cardholders from Jan. 1, 2010, to Aug. 31, 2016, who put funds onto a Netspend card but couldn’t use the card. If that includes you, Netspend should have contacted you by June 9, 2017, via mail or email with instructions for getting a refund. You have until Oct. 7 of this year to apply for the refund. If problems arise, email NetSpend@ftc.gov.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s list of best prepaid debit cards

The bottom line

  • $9.95 fee each month for basic monthly plan and no way to waive the fee completely
  • No free ATM network but locations nationwide to add cash to your card
  • Expensive overdraft program
  • Savings account with 5% APY for balances of $1,000 or less

» MORE: What you should know about prepaid debit cards

Our Ratings
General fees
Purchases and withdrawals
Reloads
Other services
Overall
NerdWallet’s overall rating is a weighted average of four categories listed.

Here are more details about Netspend’s fees and services.

General fees and features

There’s no fee to order the card online, but costs a fee if you buy it in stores such as CVS and Wal-Mart. The cost varies by retailer; CVS, for example, charges $2.95.

To use the card, you must choose between two plans. The default is a pay-as-you-go plan that charges $1 to $2 every time you make a purchase. You can opt for a monthly plan, instead, that costs $9.95, which is on the higher end for prepaid debit cards. If you receive $500 in monthly direct deposits on the card, you get upgraded automatically to the Netspend Premier FeeAdvantage plan, which drops the fee to $5 a month.

Unlike some prepaid card companies, Netspend charges an inactivity fee of $5.95 if the card isn’t used for 90 days.

To close the account, you can request a refund check to be sent by mail. This takes three to four weeks, and a fee of $5.95 will be deducted from the balance. Or you can withdraw your balance at a bank for a fee of $2.50.

ProsCons
  • Free to order online
  • $9.95 monthly fee for basic plan and no way to fully waive fee
  • $5.95 inactivity fee
  • $5.95 fee to get refund by check when account is closed
 Plan reviewed for rating: FeeAdvantage Plan

Purchases and withdrawals

Netspend’s MasterCard or Visa prepaid card is widely accepted by merchants. It doesn’t have a free ATM network, so your best bet to withdraw money is to get cash back during a purchase — which doesn’t incur a fee. But it costs $2.50 to withdraw cash at an ATM (in addition to any ATM operator fees) or to make an over-the-counter withdrawal at a financial institution.

You can sign up for an overdraft service to cover purchases you can’t afford, but the fee is $15 per overdraft, capped at three times per month. Additional overdrafts would be covered with no fee. Still, if you want to avoid the risk of incurring overdraft fees, it might be better to skip the overdraft service and let transactions be declined in the event that there’s not enough money in your account.

ProsCons
  • No fees for purchases for monthly plan cardholders
  • $2.50 fee for ATM withdrawals or over-the-counter withdrawals at a bank or credit union
  • Expensive overdraft service
 Plan reviewed for rating: FeeAdvantage Plan

Reloads

There are several free ways to reload money to the card including direct deposit and transfers from a PayPal and bank account. Mobile check deposits are free but take 10 days to clear unless you pay a steep fee of 1% to 4% of the check amount for same-day processing. It’s also free to transfer money to another Netspend account, such as that of a friend or relative.

Loading cash at more than 130,000 retailers typically costs a fee of $2 to $3.95. Type in your zip code at the Netspend site to see a list of addresses near you along with the fee charged. The company says the amount of the fee is “determined by location partners.” It also says that “select partners,” mainly in Texas, offer free reloads.

ProsCons
  • Widespread access for cash reloads: More than 130,000 Netspend Reload Network locations
  • Free transfers between Netspend cards
  • Free transfers from PayPal or bank account
  • Up to $3.95 fee for adding cash at Netspend reload locations

Other services

You can’t write checks with Netspend. To pay bills, cardholders can set up payments using ACH transfer with no Netspend fee, or use the card to make a debit or credit payment. Or use MoneyGram bill payment, a third-party service available through your Netspend account. MoneyGram charges a fee of $1.49 to $12.99, but there’s no Netspend fee.

The savings account boasts a high promotional rate of 5% annual percentage yield on deposits of up to $1,000. For balances above that, the rate drops to 0.5% APY, still well above the national average for savings accounts.

ProsCons
  • 5% APY savings account on balances up to $1,000
  • Customer service available on weekends


  • $0.50 fee for each ATM balance inquiry
  • $4.95 fee if you transfer money with help from customer service
  • No check writing

Savings rate doesn’t offset fees

Netspend’s savings account shines out as this card’s biggest perk, but it’s not enough to justify the fees for using and keeping the card. Even not using the card results in monthly fees.

NetSpend
Learn more
at NetSpend
That savings rate may lessen the sting of the unavoidable fees, but there are cheaper prepaid options.

Jeanne Lee is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: jlee@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @jlee_jeanne.

Updated June 15, 2017.


Ratings methodology

NerdWallet’s overall rating is a weighted average of these four categories: general fees and features (40%), purchases and withdrawals (35%), reloads (15%) and other services (10%). Factors we consider, depending on the category, include fees, ATM access, reload options, breadth of merchant acceptance, account features and limits, consumer-facing tech and customer service. Because prepaid debit cards help to manage money without using credit, any overdraft program gets penalized under the “purchases and withdrawals” category. 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