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Prepaid cards are similar to debit cards, except that they don’t need to be linked to a checking account. Instead, these cards require you to load money onto them before using them. Once loaded with funds, prepaid cards can be used to make purchases and pay bills, just like debit cards. Furthermore, every prepaid card belongs to one of the major payment networks, such as Visa, Mastercard, and American Express, so these cards are accepted at most places that take credit cards.Prepaid cards have their own pros and cons. While you can’t go into debt by using a prepaid card, these cards can’t help you build credit either, since they don’t report to credit bureaus. However, prepaid cards can help you manage money, since you can only spend up to the amount that you have loaded onto the card. This can help prevent overspending for those who have trouble sticking to a budget. Prepaid cards can also be more secure than cash, which can’t be replaced when lost or stolen. Just note that prepaid cards often charge various fees, which can quickly add up. Recommended: Credit Card Terms, Explained
How We Chose the Best Prepaid CardsTo find the best prepaid cards, we first divided the market into the following six categories:
Then we looked at many prepaid cards to find the best cards in each of these categories. We included only cards that anyone can apply for, leaving out products offered by credit unions that not everyone can join. For each category, we looked at the most relevant factors. For example, in the top cards for benefits category, we prioritized cards that offer benefits with as few fees as possible. Meanwhile, for the best cards for big spenders, we looked for cards that have a high or no maximum balance. While card terms may change from time to time, the following rankings reflect information that was accurate in May 2022.
- Best prepaid cards for benefits
- Best prepaid cards for cash back
- Best prepaid cards for teens
- Best prepaid cards for big spenders
- Best prepaid card for earning interest
- Best prepaid store card
Best Prepaid Cards for BenefitsMost prepaid cards offer few, if any, benefits. However, there are a few that do offer rewards. When looking at the top prepaid cards for benefits, we felt that it was important to find a card that offers benefits with as few fees as possible.
If You Want a Prepaid Card for Benefits: Bluebird From American ExpressThe Bluebird card from American Express is one of the few prepaid cards that offer substantial cardholder benefits. For example, the Bluebird card comes with roadside assistance, purchase protection for accidental damage and theft for up to 120 days from date of purchase, and access to Amex offers to save you money. Benefits like these are found more typically in credit cards, not prepaid debit cards.This card is also unique in its lack of fees. There are no monthly fees and no fees for early direct deposit, online bill pay, inactivity, or freezing your card. There are also free ATM withdrawals at over 30,000 MoneyPass ATMs. At all other ATMs, there’s a $2.50 fee per withdrawal plus the ATM operator fee. There’s no foreign transaction fee.There is a $5 card opening fee if you open your card in stores, but it can be waived if you open online instead. Although reloading cash is free at Walmart, if you reload at another retailer, you'll pay a $3.95 fee. You can also send money to anyone to pick up at Walmart with Bluebird2Walmart Money Transfer powered by Ria. The maximum balance you can load is $100,000.
- The card charges few fees compared to other prepaid cards.
- There are several valuable benefits.
- It’s convenient for frequent Walmart customers.
- The card offers few rewards.
- There are fees to reload at anywhere besides Walmart.
- There’s a fee if you open the card in a store.
Best Prepaid Cards for Cash BackEarning cash back on purchases that you make with your prepaid card can be enticing. But finding prepaid cards that offer cash-back opportunities can be difficult. To find the top prepaid cards for cash back, we looked at the rate of cash back and balanced that with the other features of the card.
If You Want a Prepaid Card for Cash Back: American Express Serve Cash BackThe American Express Serve Cash Back provides the rare opportunity to earn cash back on a prepaid card. The card earns 1% cash back on all purchases, rounded to the nearest dollar. The card also comes with several other benefits, including purchase protection, fraud protection, emergency assistance, roadside assistance, and Amex offers. There are no minimum balances and no credit checks required.You can add cash without any reload fees at over 30,000 MoneyPass ATM locations nationwide. Transactions at other ATMs have a $2.50 fee, plus ATM operator fees. The card purchase price is $1.50 in retail stores, but it’s waived for online purchases. Cash reloads cost up to $3.95. There are no transaction fees, but there is a monthly fee of $7.95.
- The card offers cash back on all purchases.
- There are no minimum balances.
- It provides additional benefits.
- The card charges a monthly fee.
- It also has cash reload fees.
- And there are additional fees.
Best Prepaid Cards for TeensKids and teens are great candidates for prepaid cards because parents can control their spending with set limits. To find the top prepaid cards for teens, we looked for cards that offered extra parental controls and security features.
If You Want a Prepaid Card for Teens: Greenlight Debit CardThe Greenlight debit card is designed specifically for kids and teens. Parents set flexible controls and get real-time notifications every time their kids spend money. Kids can earn money through chores, set savings goals, and invest. Though the card is aimed at kids and teens, there’s no minimum or maximum age for this card.There are three options for the Greenlight card. These include Greenlight, Greenlight Invest, and Greenlight Max. All three options include debit cards for up to five kids, an educational app, core financial tools, and parental controls.On top of these features, the Greenlight also earns up to 1% cash back to a savings account, and 2% interest on their savings. The first month is free then the rate is $4.99 a month for up to five kids.
The Greenlight Invest earns 1% on savings and comes with an investing platform. It costs $7.98 per month.The Greenlight Max earns 2% on savings, earns 1% cash back on purchases, and comes with an investing platform. It also provides identity theft protection, cell phone protection for damaged, lost, or stolen phones, and purchase protection. The Greenlight Max costs $9.98 per month.
- The card offers three options to choose from.
- The highest-priced option comes with additional benefits.
- The cards offer a learning opportunity for kids and teens.
- The card provides few bonuses.
- The annual fee is between $59.88 and $119.76.
- It won’t help build a child's credit score.
Best Prepaid Cards for Big SpendersNot everyone who uses a prepaid card wants to have a low limit on their spending capacity. For big spenders who still want a prepaid card, having a large or no maximum balance limit is important.
If You Want a Prepaid Card for Big Spenders: American Express Serve® FREE ReloadsThe American Express Serve® FREE Reloads card is a good option for big spenders because it has a maximum balance of $100,000, and as its name implies, there’s no cost for reloading it. Also, the card comes with several other benefits, including purchase protection, fraud protection, emergency assistance, roadside assistance, and Amex offers. There are no minimum balances and no credit checks required.You can add cash without any reload fees at over 45,000 retailers including Walmart, CVS/pharmacy®, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and participating 7-ELEVEN locations. There’s no card opening fee when you do so online.
- $100,000 maximum balance limit.
- There are no monthly or balance reload fees.
- Reload at over 45,000 locations.
- 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
- $6.95 monthly fee (except for Texas, New York, and Vermont residents).
- Mobile check deposit can take up to 10 days.
Best Prepaid Cards for Earning InterestMost prepaid cards don’t earn interest or cash back. However, some cards do allow you to earn interest on a linked savings account.
If You Want a Prepaid Card That Earns Interest: Mango Prepaid Mastercard®The Mango Prepaid Mastercard can earn interest when you link it with a Mango savings account. When you hold this card, you can open a linked Mango savings account with as little as $25. You can earn up to 6% interest on that savings account if you have a minimum of $1,500 in monthly qualifying purchases and a balance of at least $25 in the account on the last day of the month. More specifically, if you meet these criteria, you can earn 6% on up to the first $2,500 in your savings account. After that, you will earn 0.10% interest.Mango has a mobile app to help you manage your account. There’s a $5 monthly maintenance fee, which can be waived if you have at least $800 in direct deposits to your account every month. If your account is inactive for more than 90 days, you will be charged $8 a month instead of the $5 monthly maintenance fee. There is also a $3 ATM withdrawal fee and a $1 fee to check your balance at an ATM.
- This card doesn’t require a credit check.
- You can earn high interest when linked to a Mango savings account.
- The minimum balance to open a savings account is small.
- The card has a monthly maintenance fee.
- There are fees charged for several activities.
- The interest you can earn is capped.
Best Prepaid Store CardsIf you frequently shop at the same store or website, it can make sense to get a prepaid store card. In this category, the popularity of the store was important, as were the benefits. We also prioritized low, no, or waivable fees.
If You Want a Prepaid Store Card: Walmart MoneyCardThe largest retailer in the United States also offers a pretty compelling prepaid debit card. It offers you 3% cash back at Walmart.com, 2% cash back at Walmart fuel stations, and 1% cash back at Walmart stores, up to $75 each year. This card costs $1 to purchase, and there’s a monthly fee of $5.94. However, you can avoid that fee with direct deposits of at least $500 per month. Cash deposits at Walmart are free when you use the app or $3 at the register if you don’t. You can also withdraw cash at Walmart MoneyCenters and customer service desks for free, but ATM withdrawals are $2.50Other features include free online bill pay and free direct deposit of payroll and government benefits. And you can also order accounts for up to four additional family members ages 13 and up.
- You can earn cash back rewards when shopping at Walmart.
- The card offers free in-store cash withdrawals.
- There’s no monthly fee when you use direct deposit for at least $500 per month.
- The card charges a $5.94 monthly fee.
- There’s also a $2.50 ATM fee.
- There are fees to load the card at Walmart registers, which are more convenient than visiting the customer service desk.
The TakeawayPrepaid cards can be useful to people without a credit history and people who need help controlling their spending as well as kids and teens. However, prepaid cards won’t help improve your credit score, so they may not always be the best option in the long run. By understanding how prepaid cards work and what the best available options are, you can make the right decision for your needs. If you decide you’d like to shop around for a credit card, Lantern by SoFi can help. Fill out one easy form to receive multiple offers from our network lenders.
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About the Author
Jason SteeleJason Steele has been writing about credit cards and award travel since 2008. One of the nation's leading experts in this field, he has contributed to dozens of personal finance and travel outlets and has been widely quoted in the mainstream media.