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Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2018

Sept. 24, 2018
Banking, Banks & Credit Unions, Prepaid Debit Cards
Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2018
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We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

Prepaid cards

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

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 load funds onto prepaid cards before use.

Some companies also issue mobile-optimized bank accounts that don’t require a squeaky-clean banking or credit history — and they often cost less than prepaid cards. Skip ahead to read about these low-fee alternatives.

Here are our top prepaid debit cards based on fees and features.

» Looking for a place to keep extra money? Explore our best savings accounts

  • Bluebird by American Express: Cheapest
  • Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa: Cheapest
  • Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card: Best for ATM withdrawals
  • Chase Liquid: Best for reloads
  • Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard: Best for budgeting
  • FamZoo Prepaid Card: Best for budgeting
  • Chime: Best cheap prepaid alternative
  • Simple: Best cheap prepaid alternative
  • Motiv: Best cheap prepaid alternative

Cheapest
American Express

at American Express,

Member, FDIC

Bluebird by American Express

  • No monthly fees; free ATM network; great budgeting features.
  • Jump to details
Movo®

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

at Fifth Third Bank,

Member, FDIC

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.
  • Jump to details
Best for reloads

Chase Liquid Card

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

at Akimbo

Akimbo

FamZoo

at FamZoo

FamZoo

  • Multiple subaccounts for kids; free ATM network; $2.50-$5.99 monthly fee.
  • Jump to details
Banking: Top alternatives to prepaid
Chime

at Chime,

Member, FDIC

Chime

Simple

at Simple,

Member, FDIC

Simple

Motiv

at Motiv

Motiv

Bluebird by American Express

Cheapest

American Express

at American Express,

Member, FDIC

Bluebird, issued by American Express and in partnership with Walmart, offers much more than the average prepaid debit card, and you can load and spend money without paying fees.

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

  • General fees and features: No monthly fees and no costs for online 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, any ATM operator fee.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, debit card transfer, card-to-card transfer, mobile check deposit (with a third-party fee for instant processing), cash load at Walmart or other stores. (Retailers other than Walmart may charge up to $3.95.)
  • Other features: Check writing, a separate “set-aside” account for savings and up to four subaccounts for family members.
  • 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.

» Learn more about how prepaid debit cards work

Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card

cheapest

Movo®

at Movo®


Most prepaid debit cards either charge you each month or each time you make a purchase, but the Movo Virtual Prepaid Card does neither. The “virtual” element lets you buy things online, but there’s also a physical card for in-person purchases, ATM withdrawals and cash back at retailers. Movo also has 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; 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, any ATM operator fee.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit; bank account transfer; withdrawal from PayPal or Venmo balance; debit card transfer (via Bitcoin-backed MovoCoin, for a fee); cash load at retailers with Visa Readylink, MoneyPak and Reload @ Register locations, such as Walgreens or Safeway (for a fee set by the retailer).
  • 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.

» Looking for a traditional spending account? Check out cheatgame.info’s best free checking accounts.

Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card

Best for ATM withdrawals

Fifth Third Bank

at Fifth Third Bank,

Member, FDIC

Fifth Third’s Access 360° prepaid debit card takes part in Allpoint’s massive U.S. network and has access to over 50,000 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 (but Fifth Third will check your banking history).
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free at Fifth Third ATMs and the Allpoint ATM network; $2.75 fee at other ATMs, 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.

Chase Liquid Card

best for reloads

Chase’s prepaid card gives you free access to over 16,000 Chase ATMs in 26 states and Washington, D.C., and almost all of those ATMs accept cash and check deposits for free. 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 D.C., 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, 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 Zelle that can arrive in as little as a few minutes.
  • Downsides: The Chase Liquid must be opened at a Chase branch, which aren’t available in every state; the card doesn’t let you add cash at retailers; and there’s no separate savings account.

Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard

best for budgeting

Akimbo

at Akimbo

The Akimbo card allows up to five secondary cards either for family members or budget categories. Akimbo doesn’t charge a monthly fee, but it does charge 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 prepaid debit cards’ out-of-network ATM fees, but it’s 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: 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, any ATM operator fees.
  • Reload methods: Direct deposit, card-to-card transfer, bank transfer, mobile check deposit, adding 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

best for budgeting

FamZoo

at FamZoo

FamZoo is a family-friendly prepaid Mastercard that lets parents become virtual bankers for their kids, even those younger than 13. Four cards can be part of one monthly plan. From the website or 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, 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, MoneyPak and Mastercard rePower networks (up to $5.95 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 and no mobile check deposit feature.

The difference between prepaid debit cards and checking accounts is starting to blur, as many have similar features and services.

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. Below are details on three  mobile accounts that have even fewer fees than almost all prepaid debit cards.

Chime

BANKING: top alternative to prepaid

Chime

at Chime,

Member, FDIC

Chime isn’t a prepaid debit card or a traditional bank account but a free “spending account” 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 and set up automatic transfers.

  • 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 and Visa Plus Alliance ATM networks; $2.50 at other ATMs, any ATM operator fee.
  • Deposit methods: Direct deposit, debit card transfer, bank transfer, mobile check deposit, add cash at retailers in the Reload @ the Register network (up to $5 retailer fee).
  • Other services: Optional savings account. 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.
  • Downsides: The out-of-network ATM fee.

Simple

BANKING: TOP ALTERNATIVE TO PREPAID

Simple

at Simple,

Member, FDIC

Also a mobile-optimized bank, Simple builds budgeting into the user experience. It has a Safe-to-Spend balance, which starts with your available balance and then subtracts scheduled bills and customized savings goals. 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, deposit by mail, 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.

Motiv

BANKING: TOP ALTERNATIVE to prepaid

Motiv

at Motiv

Motiv is a new online bank account that stands out for its low costs (including no overdraft fees) and its inclusive membership criteria: Noncitizens and those with no or bad credit are invited to apply.

  • General fees and features: No monthly fees or costs for activation or inactivity; no credit or ChexSystems check. (Click for more information on ChexSystems.)
  • Purchases: No fees.
  • ATM withdrawals: Free in the MoneyPass network. Motiv won’t charge you to use an out-of-network ATM, but the ATM owner might.
  • Deposit methods: Direct deposit, deposit-friendly ATMs, mobile check deposit via a third-party app, bank account transfer.
  • Other services: Online bill pay, check request feature.
  • Downsides: The account doesn’t pay interest.

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$038,000
FamZoo Prepaid Card$2.50-$5.9925,000
Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card$455,000
Motiv$025,000
Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card$06,000
Simple bank account$055,000

METHODOLOGY

We looked at 46 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: 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

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