American Express Serve® review: Three low-fee prepaid cards

A young couple buy fries at a food truck using an American Express Serve card A young couple buy fries at a food truck using an American Express Serve card Image:

In a Nutshell

The three American Express Serve® cards offer low fees, free ATM withdrawals and a variety of cardholder benefits to prepaid card users.

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Prepaid cards can be an alternative to a traditional bank account for those who don’t want to open a checking account or have trouble opening an account.

Michael Griffin, a lecturer who teaches accounting, business and personal finance at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, says prepaid cards can “help limit the amount of ‘plastic money’ you spend and can help you keep within your budget.”

American Express offers three versions of its prepaid Serve® card, each with slightly different features but some of the same general pros and cons.

What we like Heads up
  • Low fees compared to some other prepaid cards
  • No need to worry about overdrafts, late payment fees or interest-bearing debt
  • Purchase and liability protections
  • There are some fees, and you should compare the cards’ terms
  • Look for a fee-free MoneyPass® ATMs when withdrawing cash
  • Checks aren’t available with your account

 

The American Express Serve® cards, along with other prepaid cards, also have some general benefits:

  • You can use the prepaid card to make purchases online.
  • Using a prepaid card could be safer than carrying lots of
  • The money stored on a prepaid card may be covered by FDIC insurance (like many checking accounts).
  • You can’t overdraw the account and incur overdraft fees unless you opt into overdraft protection.
  • You won’t have to worry about accruing interest-bearing credit card debt.
  • Generally, there’s no credit check required for approval.

The American Express Serve® cards also let you set up direct deposit. Additionally, you can deposit cash or checks into your account, or transfer money from a bank account if you have one.

You can then access your money by using the card to make purchases, withdrawing it from an ATM or at select stores, transferring money from a bank account or using the Pay Bills feature.

From our partner

American Express Serve®

From cardholders in the last year

See Details, Rates & Fees

  1. The rundown: Everything we like about the American Express Serve® cards
  2. Heads up: What you should consider before applying for American Express Serve®
  3. Do the math: Comparing the three American Express Serve® cards
  4. The competition: How American Express Serve® stacks up against similar cards
  5. Bottom line: Is American Express Serve® right for you?

The rundown: Everything we like about the American Express Serve® cards

American Express offers three versions of its Serve® prepaid card. All three are free if you order the cards online, or up to $3.95 each if you buy one at a store.

The basic American Express Serve® card’s biggest benefit is its small $1 monthly fee. This turns into a $0 fee if you make at least $500 in direct deposits each month.

Spending just $12 a year, or less, on monthly fees can yield significant savings compared to the prepaid cards that charge $5 (or more) per month.

FAST FACTS

Are there any states in which monthly fees don’t apply?

Yes. There are currently no monthly fees for American Express Serve® cards in Texas, New York and Vermont. Vermont cardholders also won’t be charged a fee for withdrawing funds at a non-MoneyPass® ATM (though ATM operator fees may still apply).

The American Express Serve® FREE Reloads card has a $4.95 monthly fee, but it’s free to load cash onto the card at more than 45,000 retail locations.

Other prepaid cards, including the other two American Express Serve® prepaid cards, charge a fee for cash reloads (such as $3.95 per reload). These fees sometimes vary by retailer.

The American Express Serve® Cash Back card has a $5.95 monthly fee, but you’ll earn 1 percent cash back on your purchases.

Unlike with some other rewards prepaid cards, there’s no annual cap on how much you can earn with American Express Serve® Cash Back. But you’ll need to make $595 worth of purchases with the card each month to break even with the monthly fee.

There are also some useful features available on all three American Express Serve® cards:

  • A Reserve function that allows you to create and name Reserve accounts and set up single or recurring transfers. You can use these to save money for specific goals, such as upcoming bills or a vacation.
  • Subaccounts that allow you to give someone else a Serve® card that’s attached to your account. You can set spending limits and monitor the card’s activity, which could be helpful if you give your teenager an allowance.
  • You won’t be liable for fraudulent purchases after you report your card lost or stolen. However, if purchases are made before you contact the issuer, you may be liable for up to $50, or up to $500 if you wait for more than two business days.

Heads up: What you should consider before applying for American Express Serve®

Watch out for fees.

Some prepaid cards have lots of fees. These may include an inactivity fee if there isn’t any account activity within a certain period, or a fee to make a purchase with the card.

While Serve® cards generally do well against other prepaid cards when it comes to fees, you may be able to do better.

For example, Bluebird by American Express (This offer is no longer available on our site) doesn’t have a monthly fee and there’s no fee to load cash at Walmart. Bluebird offers many of the same perks as the basic Serve® card.

Register your card to secure protections. 

You can buy and load a prepaid card without creating an online account. However, if you want to receive fraud protection, you may need to register your card and create an online account.

Using it won’t build credit.

If you’re looking to build or rebuild your credit, a prepaid card won’t help you.

You may have to pay to get money quickly. 

You can deposit checks into your account with the Mobile Check Capture by Ingo® Money feature. But you’ll need to wait 10 days to receive the money if you don’t want to pay a fee.

Do the math: Comparing the three American Express Serve® cards

American Express Serve® American Express Serve® FREE Reloads American Express Serve® Cash Back
Card price $0 online or up to $3.95 at retail stores $0 online or up to $3.95 at retail stores $0 online or up to $3.95 at retail stores

Monthly fee

(No fee in TX, NY or VT)

Either $1 or $0 with a direct deposit of $500 or more (up to $12 a year) $4.95 ($59.40 a year) $5.95 ($71.40 a year)
Cash reloads Up to $3.95 depending on the retailer Free at over 45,000 stores, including CVS Pharmacy®, Dollar General®, Walmart® and Rite Aid® Up to $3.95 depending on the retailer
Direct deposit  $0 $0 $0
Deposit money from a bank account $0 $0 $0
ATM withdrawals $0 at MoneyPass® ATMs and $2.50 otherwise (No fees in VT)Additional ATM operator fees could apply

$0 at MoneyPass® ATMs and $2.50 otherwise (No fees in VT)

Additional ATM operator fees could apply 

$0 at MoneyPass® ATMs and $2.50 otherwise (No fees in VT)

Additional ATM operator fees could apply 

Online bill pay  $0   $0   $0
Subaccounts   $0   $0   $0
Replacement card   $0   $0   $0
Foreign transaction fee 2.7%  2.7%  2.7%
Mobile check deposit

$0 if you want the money in 10 days

If you want it within minutes, you’ll have to pay 1 or 5 percent of the check amount ($5 minimum) 

$0 if you want the money in 10 days

If you want it within minutes, you’ll have to pay 1 or 5 percent of the check amount ($5 minimum) 

$0 if you want the money in 10 days

If you want it within minutes, you’ll have to pay 1 or 5 percent of the check amount ($5 minimum) 


The competition: How American Express Serve® stacks up against similar cards 

Bluebird by American Express Great for Walmart shoppers

Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card

**This offer is no longer available on our site.

Great for its large ATM network

NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Debit Card and NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®

**These offers are no longer available on our site.

Popular, but lots of fees

Bluebird by American Express

In addition to the Serve® cards, American Express has Bluebird, which offers many of the benefits of Serve® cards with potentially fewer fees.

It doesn’t have a monthly fee, and there’s no fee to withdraw money from MoneyPass® ATMs. What’s more, you can load cash for free at Walmart and order a book of checks ($19.95 plus shipping and tax) to go along with it.

Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card

The Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card could be a good option if you regularly want access to cash from an ATM or plan to travel outside the U.S.

The card doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee and offers free ATM withdrawals at over 55,000 Allpoint ATMs globally. The $3 monthly fee is waived if you direct deposit at least $750 into your account each month.

NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Debit Card and NetSpend® Prepaid MasterCard®

NetSpend® offers Visa and Mastercard prepaid cards, and you can choose to either pay a monthly fee ($9.95, or $5 if you direct deposit $500 or more into the account each month) or pay per purchase ($1 for signature purchases or $2 for PIN-based purchases).

Watch out for a variety of other fees, including $9.95 for a replacement card, 50 cents to check your balance at an ATM and at least $2.50 to withdraw money from any ATM.


Bottom line: Is American Express Serve® right for you?

If you’re considering using a prepaid card, be sure to closely review the fees and compare different providers and cards to find the option that will cost you the least amount of money.

The American Express Serve® cards are certainly worthy of your consideration. Aside from the typical benefits of prepaid cards, they offer extra perks such as access to money-saving Amex Offers and the option to earn cash back on purchases.


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