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Prepaid debit cards are continually becoming a more viable financial product, and the BB&T prepaid debit cards are no exception. As checking accounts become increasingly expensive, consumers are turning prepaid alternatives to handle their finances. A year ago, we would have advised anyone and everyone to stay far, far away from prepaid debit. But now, with affordable products proliferating, prepaid is becoming a tenable option for those without access to free checking. Exemplifying these recent innovations are the BB&T LEAP Account and the BB&T MoneyAccount. Here we review these two prepaid products and compare them to similar cards from Chase, US Bank and American Express.
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BB&T LEAP Account – money management for teens and students
The BB&T Account is designed for young folks making their initial entrance into the world of personal finance. More specifically, applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 21. Before we discuss the merits of the LEAP Account, we should preface our discussion with a note on student checking accounts. A few banks offer free or cheap student checking, and you may want to explore those options before going the prepaid route. Why? You may be able to sidestep fees entirely. Plus, you’ll get a checkbook, which might come in handy from time to time. You can find free student checking in your area using our checking account search tool.
If you’re opting for prepaid, the BB&T LEAP Account is easily one of the most affordable options available. Unlike many prepaid cards, it does NOT charge an activation fee, cash reload fee, transaction fee, in-network ATM withdrawal fee, card replacement fee or account cancellation fee. In fact, the only fees it charges are a monthly maintenance fees ($3), out-of-network ATM fee ($2.50) and international ATM fee ($5). As long as you stick to in-network ATMs in the US, you’ll pay a flat $36 annually. That’s considerably cheaper than many checking accounts (Chase’s student checking costs $6 a month) and way more affordable than most prepaid debit cards (which charge tons of fees on top of the monthly).
BB&T MoneyAccount – almost a checking account
Adults over 21 will not be eligible for a LEAP Account. Fortunately, BB&T offers an affordable option for “grownups” as well. The MoneyAccount is nearly identical to its little brother in almost every way. It is not bogged down by a convoluted fee chart and charges none of the superfluous fees characteristic of so many prepaid debit cards. Again, it charges only 3 fees–monthly maintenance, out-of-network ATM and international ATM. The monthly maintenance fee starts at $5 but can be reduced to $3 if you deposit/load $1,000 onto your card each month. The standard rate works out to $60 a year, and the reduced rate is only $36–the same cost as the student LEAP Account. That’s a pretty darn good deal considering many prepaid cards will bleed you in excess of $100 a year.
One of the main reasons we like the BB&T prepaid debit cards is their close relationship with the BB&T bank. By visiting a BB&T location, you can make deposits for free. That’s actually a huge deal. Most prepaid debit cards use services like MoneyGram to handle cash reloads. Depositing money commonly costs $3.95 per transaction. At two deposit a month, that works out to almost $95 a year in reload fees alone. When you visit a BB&T location, you can make free deposits with cash, BB&T checks and government-issued checks. And to avoid check-cashing fees on your paycheck, enroll in direct deposit.
Also unusual for a prepaid debit card, BB&T permits you to make free ATM withdrawals at in-network locations. Cards without ATM networks incur withdrawal fees up to $5 or more per transaction. If you’re going to sign up for a prepaid card, wouldn’t you want free access to the cash in your account?
BB&T vs. Chase
Chase offers a similar prepaid card called the Chase Liquid. Remarkably similar to the BB&T MoneyAccount, the Chase Liquid charges only a monthly fee and an out-of-network ATM transaction fee. The monthly fee is 5 cents cheaper at $4.95. But unlike the MoneyAccount, the Liquid offers no opportunities to lower the fee.
Both cards are worth considering. If you plan on depositing over $1,000 every month, the BB&T MoneyAccount is the obvious choice, as you’ll only pay $36 a year in maintenance fees. If you don’t plan on depositing a grand a month, the maintenance fees are almost identical, and your choice will depend on which bank is more prevalent in your area. Go with whichever institution has a stronger presence in your city.
The Chase Liquid does have a couple additional cool features worth mentioning. While BB&T only allows free check deposits with BB&T checks, government-issued checks and direct deposits, Chase will cash any of your checks free of charge. That may or may not be a big deal to you. Also, Chase has a neat little tool called Chase QuickDeposit. Basically, you take a picture of your check and submit it via the Chase Mobile App. Chase drops the funds into your Liquid account, and you never have to set foot inside a bank. Pretty awesome.
BB&T vs. US Bank
US Bank offers what they called the Convenient Cash Card. Like the MoneyAccount and Chase Liquid, it goes easy on the fees. The Convenient Cash does charge a one-time $3 activation fee, but it may be well worth the cost. The monthly fee is only $3, regardless of how much you deposit each month. At $36 a year, the US Bank easily defeats Chase and has the same cost to BB&T cardholders who deposit $1,000 or more each month.
The Convenient Cash Card allows for free cash deposits and withdrawals at US Bank locations. You can also sign up for direct deposit for no cost. The Convenient Cash does not offer free check cashing.
When deciding between these cards, consider 3 factors: 1) if you will qualify for BB&T’s discounted monthly rate, 2) if you will need to deposit checks without direct deposit and 3) how convenient it will be to access in-network ATMs.
BB&T vs. American Express
To give you an idea of how the BB&T MoneyAccount, the Chase Liquid and the US Bank Convenient Cash Card compare to less advantageous prepaid products, let’s take a look at the American Express Prepaid Debit Card. Initially, the AmEx Prepaid might seem exciting because it does not charge a monthly maintenance fee. However, loading money onto your card will cost $3.95 per transaction. If you do this just twice monthly, you’re looking at nearly $95 per year in reload fees.
You also want to consider ATM usage. American Express allows cardholders one free ATM withdrawal per month. Each additional withdrawal incurs a $2.00 charge. On top of that, you’re only allowed to take out $200 per week, which is severely limiting. Most other prepaid cards are capped at $500 per day. Now, if you only reload using free direct deposit and rarely need to make withdrawals, the AmEx Prepaid is actually dirt cheap. But if you’d like your prepaid card to have versatility and freedom comparable to a checking account, any of the other options discussed here will serve you better.