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Prepaid cards are a type of card that let you access money you’ve loaded to the prepaid card account.
They may sometimes be called “prepaid credit cards” or “prepaid debit cards,” but unlike credit cards, prepaid cards don’t involve borrowing any money, which means there’s no credit check required. And unlike debit cards, prepaid cards aren’t linked to your bank accounts.
Instead, you load money directly to the prepaid card account. When you make purchases with the card, you use the money you loaded.
A prepaid card can be a good alternative to a credit card if you want to avoid the temptation of racking up debt. It can also provide the convenience of plastic if you don’t qualify for or have a checking account.
Here’s our take on the best prepaid cards of 2021, plus some alternatives to consider.
|Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account||No monthly fees|
|MOVO® Digital Prepaid Visa® Card||High limits|
|Mango Prepaid Mastercard®||Saving money|
|American Express Serve Cash Back®||Cash back rewards|
Best for no monthly fees: Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account
Here’s why: A lot of prepaid cards charge various fees. But if you’re fee averse, you’re not totally out of options — the Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account could be a solid choice for you.
It comes with the following:
- No monthly fee
- No activation fee
- No ATM withdrawal fee at MoneyPass ATMs ($2.50 fee at other ATMs, plus the ATM operator’s fee, if any)
- No fee for cash and debit card reloads at Walmart (but up to $3.95 at other retailers)
You also have the option to load money onto your card for free via direct deposit or a mobile check deposit.
The only drawback to free mobile deposits is the 10-day waiting period. If you want your money sooner, you’ll have to pay 1% or 5% of the check amount, depending on the type of check, with a $5 minimum fee.
Best for high limits: MOVO® Digital Prepaid Visa® Card
Here’s why: The MOVO® Digital Prepaid Visa® Card has high limits: a $10,000 maximum balance on the card and a $5,500 per day withdrawal limit.
There are other limits — such as how much you can load on your card over a certain amount of time, regardless of how much you withdraw. So if you plan on moving a lot of money around, check out the card’s terms and conditions to get a sense of the full limits.
The MOVO® Digital Prepaid Visa® Card has …
- No monthly fee
- No activation fee, though a physical card will cost $5.95
- A $2 ATM fee for domestic withdrawals (plus a potential ATM operator’s fee)
- A $4.95 per month fee if your account stays inactive for 90 days
You can add money to your card for free via direct deposit or from your bank account. If you want to load cash, you can at participating retailers — but there may be a fee, and you’ll need to have a physical card.
Best for saving money: Mango Prepaid Mastercard®
Here’s why: While some other prepaid cards allow you to set aside money in a separate savings account, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a card that’ll reward you more for doing so than the Mango Prepaid Mastercard®.
Its savings account offers an annual percentage yield, or APY, of up to 6% on balances as high as $2,500. You’ll get a 0.10% APY on balances higher than that.
To qualify for the 6% APY, you’ll need to make at least $1,500 in “signature purchases” each month and have a balance of at least $25 in your savings account at the end of the month. “Signature” purchases are transactions in which you don’t use your PIN to authorize the sale.
But there are some fees to be aware of.
- There’s a $5 monthly fee, which the card issuer waives if you receive at least $800 in direct deposits each month.
- There’s no activation fee.
- There’s a $3 fee for domestic ATM withdrawals (plus any fee the ATM operator might charge).
- You may pay a fee to load cash onto the card, but it depends on how and where you load money onto the card.
Learn more about the Mango Prepaid Mastercard® in our editorial review.
Best for cash back rewards: American Express Serve Cash Back®
Here’s why: Rewards are one of the biggest features you’ll miss out on if you avoid credit cards. But with the American Express Serve® Cash Back, you’ll earn 1% cash back, which is applied to your account and can be used for future purchases, on every purchase you make.
While that doesn’t compete with the top cash back credit cards, it’s better than nothing.
Here are some of the fees the American Express Serve Cash Back® comes with.
- A monthly fee of $7.95, unless you live in New York, Texas or Vermont
- No activation fee
- No fee for withdrawals from MoneyPass ATMs (up to a $2.50 fee per transaction for out of network ATMs, as well as any fee the ATM operator may charge)
- Cash reload at retail locations can cost you up to $3.95, depending on the retailer
To learn more about the American Express Serve® Cash Back, read our editorial review of all three Serve® cards.
Alternatives to prepaid cards
Here are some alternatives to prepaid cards to consider.
Free checking account
If you’re looking at prepaid cards for your money management because of the fees that can come with bank accounts (like overdraft fees), you might be interested in a free checking account from a bank or credit union instead.
Secured credit card
Prepaid debit cards can’t assist you in building credit like a secured credit card can. Compare offers for secured credit cards on Credit Karma to learn more about your options — some secured cards don’t require credit checks or even bank accounts to apply. Keep in mind, however, that they do require a security deposit, so you’ll have to put money down to use this type of card.
How do I get a prepaid card?
Depending on which card you want, there are a few different ways you can apply.
- In-store — Some retailers, like Walmart, allow you to purchase and load money onto a new prepaid card.
- Online — Many prepaid cards allow you to apply through their websites.
- At a branch — Some banks, like Chase, offer prepaid cards that you can apply for at your local branch.
Do prepaid cards hurt your credit?
Prepaid cards don’t hurt your credit. Unlike credit cards, you aren’t borrowing any money from the card issuer — you’re accessing your own money that you’ve uploaded to the card account.
Because of this, prepaid cards don’t require a hard credit inquiry, which can have a slightly negative effect on your credit scores.
But prepaid cards also don’t have any positive effect on your credit. With a credit card that reports to the three major consumer credit bureaus, making payments on-time and in full and keeping your overall balance low can help you build credit history. Prepaid cards don’t report any of your activity to the bureaus, so they won’t help you build credit.
Are prepaid cards a bad idea?
Prepaid cards can make sense in certain situations — for example, if you don’t have a checking account or you just don’t want the temptation of using credit.
But there can be downsides to prepaid cards. One major downside? The relatively high fees just for holding, loading, or even withdrawing money from the card. And you won’t build credit by using a prepaid card. If you’ve already got a bank account, or think you might be interested in opening one, consider your alternatives instead.
How we picked these cards
The best prepaid cards are not only great budgeting tools, but they also provide a lot of other features and are relatively affordable. We considered several factors as we compiled our list, including fees, extra benefits, free reload options and ways to get money back.
We also wanted to highlight cards that go above and beyond the norm. The cards we chose have special features, like a high-rate savings account, compatibility with popular digital wallets or maybe a huge free ATM network.