What are prepaid debit 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.
Prepaid debit cards vs. regular debit cards
You don’t need a bank account to get a prepaid debit card, but it’s a requirement for a regular debit card, which is linked to your checking account. For prepaid debit cards, you load the card with money when you get it, then use it to make purchases. For regular debit cards, the funds for your payments are taken directly from your checking account as you make payments.
- Bluebird by American Express: Cheapest.
- Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa: Cheapest.
- Fifth Third Access 360° Reloadable Prepaid Card: Best for ATM withdrawals.
- Wells Fargo EasyPay Prepaid Card: Best for free reloads.
- Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard: Best for budgeting.
- FamZoo Prepaid Card: Best for budgeting.
- Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard: Best for budgeting.
- Chime: Best cheap prepaid alternative.
- Simple: Best cheap prepaid alternative.
Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card
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 exception is if you go more than three months without activity; then a $4.95 inactivity fee is charged per month until there’s activity. A “virtual” element lets you buy things online, and there’s a physical card for in-person purchases, ATM withdrawals and cash back at retailers. Movo also has a free ATM network.
- General fees and features: No monthly fees and no costs for activation; $4.95 inactivity fee; 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, plus any ATM operator fee.
- Reload methods: Direct deposit; bank account transfer; withdrawal from PayPal or Venmo balance; mobile check deposit (with a third-party fee for instant processing); crypto-facilitated transfer (converting cryptocurrency such as bitcoin to cash in a Movo account via a blockchain-based MovoCoin, for a fee of 2% and $2 per transaction); 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 are free. You can also create one-time secondary virtual cards (“MovoCoins”) for free with their own card numbers. These cards can protect your main account number during transactions. Movo can be used with Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay as well as for giving kids allowances via MovoCoin.
- Downsides: Free ways to reload the card, such as bank and PayPal transfers, can take two to three business days before funds are available. The card can’t be used to load funds on Venmo.
Title: Best Prepaid Debit Cards 2019
Publish Date: July 8, 2019
Author: Spencer Tierney
Spencer Tierney is an expert on certificates of deposit at NerdWallet. His work has been featured by USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
We looked at 44 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, 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.