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The Best Prepaid Debit Cards, September 2014

This article was written by in Credit. 29 comments.


Prepaid debit cards have always been a controversial topic, particularly the cards that carry insanely high fees just for making everyday purchases. Suze Orman’s entry into the prepaid card business, the Approved Card, prompted heated debate about whether it represented a conflict of interest, given Orman’s following. In 2010, after the Kardashians announced their branded prepaid card, they received bad press due to the card’s predatory fees and lack of customer benefits. That card was canceled soon after it was announced. Not all prepaid cards are as bad, but fees are common. You need to evaluate each offer to determine whether a prepaid card is right for you. For parents who want to monitor and control their children’s spending, while teaching their children how to responsibly handle money management, prepaid debit cards are some of the preferred tools.

The best prepaid debit cards are cards without fees, offering rewards for everyday purchases. While credit is almost everywhere in this country, many Americans do not have a credit card or bank account. They use cash for their needs. While this might be a cheaper method of paying for products and services, it isn’t always safe to carry around cash for purchases. Rather than resort to prepaid cards with high fees consider looking at some of these best prepaid debit cards available for consumers today.

Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard®The Green Dot® Prepaid MasterCard® is a card with a simple fee plan. Cardholders will not have to pay a monthly fee as long as they deposit at least $1,000 onto the card monthly or make 30 qualifying purchases posted to your account monthly. If these conditions are not met, the monthly fee is $5.95. Online activation will cost $0. There are fees for initial purchase, which varies by retailer, of up to $4.95, reloading the card fees also vary by retailer and is currently up to $4.95. This is not a credit card you need to load your own money on the card to activate and to use.

UPside Visa Prepaid CardUPside Visa Prepaid Card. The UPside Visa Prepaid Card offers three different plans depending on your lifestyle, each with a different fee structure. A card designed for teenagers, the UPside Visa Prepaid Card allows parents to load cards free of charge from a checking or savings account. The Edge Plan charges an annual fee of $29.95 however UPside Edge cardholders earn cash back on funds loaded to the card. Loading the card via direct deposit from employers is free for Edge and Access plan users. Members who choose the Clear plan, while membership fee is free, will have to pay $2.50 for each direct deposit initiated from a debit or credit card. UPside Access has a $2.99 monthly membership fee. This is not a credit card but a prepaid reloadable card.

American Express Serve. If you’re looking to avoid fees with your prepaid debit card, this choice from American Express might be the best option. You can load the card from a bank account online or by phone, or you can place your deposit in the form of cash by purchasing a “MoneyPak” at over 50,000 retail locations including Walmart, CVS, 7-Eleven, and Walgreens. There is a service fee of up to $4.95 that will be added to your purchase for purchasing a MoneyPak for depositing cash. American Express does not charge reload fees made through bank accounts and direct deposit linked to the card. Cash reloads and other reload methods may carry a third party purchase or service fee. This is not a credit card, however the card comes with many of the major benefits that all American Express cardholders receive, like roadside assistance, purchase protection, and entertainment access. This is not a credit card you need to load your own money on the card to activate and to use.

READYdebit Platinum Visa Prepaid CardREADYdebit® Platinum Visa® Prepaid Card. The READYdebit® Platinum Visa® Prepaid Card includes free direct deposit of your paycheck if the direct deposit is recurring, free online bill pay and a bevy of other services, free of charge. There is one main fee associated with this card, however. The monthly maintenance fee of $14.95. The card also carries fees for ATM withdrawal and bank teller withdrawal. When compared to other cards on this list, these fees can add up over a full year, but the READYdebit® Platinum Visa® Prepaid Card is still better than most prepaid cards in the market today. This is not a credit card you need to load your own money on the card to activate and to use.

As you can see, the prepaid debit card industry is mired in fees. If you believe a prepaid debit card is right for you, tread carefully, read the terms and conditions, and know the fees. Even the best prepaid debit card can end up costing more money than you are prepared to spend. There are many other debit cards I’m not including in this list at all because they are best avoided. Using a prepaid debit card can help a responsible person who does not qualify for a credit card handle their expenses, but it can also be a recipe for disaster.

Updated September 1, 2014 and originally published January 21, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

That Mango card sounds like an excellent alternative for those who can’t open a bank account. I just don’t understand why someone would not open a bank account but would apply for a prepaid debit card. What would be the obstacles for that person opening the bank account that would not be present for the prepaid debit card?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

If someone has a bad history with a checking account — frequent overdrafts, for example — their record will be tarnished, making it difficult for him to get another checking account after one bank closes the account. Banks generally verify applicants using ChexSystems, which is like a credit report — only for bank accounts. A bad record can prevent someone from being able to open an account. Prepaid debit cards don’t verify ChexSystems reports, so this can be the only option for some people. It’s not a great option, but it probably is better than taking your pay check to a shady check-cashing establishment.

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

Thanks for clarifying that for me, Flexo. I have to agree that the pre-paid debit card option is much better than using a check-cashing establishment.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

flexo,

i was previously aware of ChexSystems, but i was wondering if you know how one repairs their ChexSystems report? is that even possible? is the process similar to repairing ones credit report?

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avatar kerryleblanc

Considering the fees that banks charge, many people feel that the few dollars they have to for the use of prepaid are worth it, as long as you have a card from someone you can trust.

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avatar Julie Lynch

Mango just closed my account due to inactivity. I have direct deposit going into the account, but since I did not use the debit/credit feature enough, they closed my account WITHOUT warning. As a side note their website is constantly down and the two times I tried to use the card, it didn’t work. I only found out account was closed because I logged on and it indicated my account was blocked. Currently have about 2000 in the account….waiting on a call back from the Mango Manger, because no one could there would answer my questions about where my money is then..SCAM ARTISTS, DO NOT TRUST.

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avatar seawicks

sorry you had issues with mango julie! i have been with mango for about four years now and have never had an issue – from deposits, to calling customer service, to getting disputes resolved. the only reason i am closing my mango card is i am getting tired of paying the fees companies charge when i want to put my monthly payments on my card – it is now easier for me to open a checking account and has direct withdraw this way. again – so sorry you experienced this as mango was one of the best i have seen / used

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avatar 4hendricks ♦248 (Cent)

I may try the Mango just for the interest rate.

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avatar gotr31 ♦224 (Cent)

I guess if you need to have some kind of credit card and don’t want or can’t get a traditional one these are good options. Personally though I don’t want the hassle of loading it and keeping track of fees.

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avatar MorningCoffee

This year after GreenDot closes on Bonneville Bank they will be adding a savings option and remote check capture deposit hopefully that gets implemented through partners for less than the current loading fee and free through capable phones. The latter will allow those without direct deposit to skip cashing the check.

GreenDot does have free ATM transactions at MoneyPass ATMs (owned by US Bank).

Other great cards are: (none of these have any transaction fees or monthly unless noted)

MoneyManager card which only has two fees or one if you have direct deposit. 50 cents for ‘billpay to anyone’ where there is a check sent out (a stamp has a cost) and for cash deposits at any Visa Readylink location – $4 (swipes at 7-Eleven for instant load 24 hours a day).. Free & unlimited ATM usage at any of the 37,000 AllpointNetwork ATMs. Anyone can get a card by emailing them.

MoneyNetwork card sold at 7-Eleven $2 a month, $2 for cash loading in store. They swipe the card at any 7-Eleven and you’re done. (25 cents for debit transactions).

Nfinanse $3 a month, $3 to cash load free direct deposit.

DebitPass which is at some credit unions and smaller banks is from US Banks Elan division. A credit union in my area has it. No fee to load cash. No monthly fee and ATM transactions cost a total of $1.50 at MoneyPass ATms.

Watch for many more banks and credit unions to offer prepaid cards in the coming years. Some banks that have prepaid programs now include Bank of America – CashPay card etc When those banks start to allow deposits at their locations for free those will take off.

Not mentioned in the article here is that Mango Money has a retail location in Austin, TX that puts your check right on your Mango card at no charge – if they had 50 locations in metro areas or 1000 in some partner location that model would take off like a jet. Expand that model and get an ATM deal with Allpoint and they become a player.

Chexsystems is automatically removed in 5 years. Telecheck & EWS have different standards.

Ace Elite, Vision and to a lessor extent ReadyDebit are total rip offs. If they aren’t paying for space they should be jettisoned.

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avatar MorningCoffee

I forgot the newest Western Union cards have no fees except for cash loads which are $4. Get the gold one because they can swipe it for cash deposits with no paperwork required.

One of the things people need to do when they sign up for a card is read the T&C carefully. If there is none on the website or the fees section says the schedule comes with the card – turn around and run.
The other thing to review is the daily spending limit and the daily withdrawal limit. Its your money if you can’t get it or spend it what good is the card to you? Many of these cards purposely restrict both.

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avatar MorningCoffee

One last thing – I do not believe that the SmartyPig deal really qualifies as a general prepaid account either.

You have to have a bank account to fund this at no cost. I’ll wager funding it through a credit card shows as a cash advance. Further ACH transfers take up to 6 days depending on the source and the service. SmartyPigs claims of 2 days? They don’t control the time involved – they are the receiver.

Further the card itself is only loadable through transfers from the savings account which can take up to 7 days according to the confusing website. So it could take 15+ business days to get funds onto the card. I don’t think that’s going to work for too many prepaid card users.

Show me where I am wrong on this but I think not.

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avatar ChrisP

I was trying to find customer reviews of the Mango Card and so far the few I have found were complaints about the customer service and trouble actually receiving the physical card. Has anyone else seen anything on this card?

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avatar seawicks

i have had the card for about four years now chris, and honestly, i have not had any issues with CS (and yes – i have had to contact them several times, mainly for disputed charges or getting holds removed). there are times it takes a bit to get through to CS, but that may be just because it is a busy time of the day/week. we also got our cards within the 7-10 days (which is the exact time it took for my card from my bank to reach me), so there were no issues there. from the website to the app on my phone to the emails i received letting me know of each transaction – i never had any issue with the card. as i mentioned in another post, i am only going to a traditional bank now because of the fees i have to pay from my creditors when i pay my monthly payment via card versus checking account.

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avatar steve

For those of us who cannot do direct deposit or have a bank account I am hard pressed to find any card whose fees are lower than wal-marts.

3 bucks a month. Most if not every other fee is easily avoidable.

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avatar jeynix

The Walmart Card would work great considering it’s $3, however your check has to typed. For someone like me whose boss hand writes my check it just doesn’t work. I have to go to Ace and use their card…. I also like the fact that I have that they have a savings account and over draft protection, I’m going on a year with them and it’s ok….

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avatar Wynter

American express prepaid has no monthly fee

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avatar Anthony

F*CK MANGO
Mango was an excellent card until tax season came along and I went ahead and decided to use Mangos Direct Deposit they talk about. You know the part where it says Government Tax Returns can be Direct Deposited onto there card. This is where it get crazy. I did my taxes myself like I do every year and as i patiently waited those painstaking 2 weeks for my cash Mango decides to do the unexpected 18 hour before my money was to hit. Get this I go to log on to my Mango Account username/password and to my suprise it reads “no one with this user name?” The day before this no problems. So i do what I can only do is call them and those F**ckers. They perseed to said your account has been closed due to suspecious activites!!! WHAT!!!! So u can only guess what happens next. I did end up getting my check after another month and a half of waiting. This didnt only happen to me but to my circle of friends. We started out with Mango becuz u can send money to other Mango users thru text messeging. Anyways I was very dissapointed that they falsly advertised there tax return direct deposits bullshit. I had been with them for over a year and they treated me like this with no explaination just a “Im borrowing u tax money for now sucka!!!” Anyways DO NOT USE MANGO WITH TAX RETURNS!!!! I suggest just DONT USE MANGO!!!!

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avatar Nydia Rivera

Mango did the same thing with my account and my son’s account. After numerous phone calls and lots of aggravation, the said they would send me a check for the balance on my account minus $10.00 fee for processing, and it would take 6-8 weeks. I reluctantly agreed, but right after I hung up with them, I filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau against the issuing bank (Inter National Bank in McAllen, TX). The CFPB forwarded my complaint to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, who has the job of regulationg banks. The OCC contacted the bank, who in turn sent it to Mango, and guess what? In less than 2 weeks I received a call from them apologizing for the mistake and reopened my account, and they gave me a $25.00 good faith credit. They also reopened my son’s account. I told them that I was still very upset and might not continue using them. I will probably spend the money and then close the account for good.

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avatar Angela

How about Amex’s new pre-paid card? No monthly fees, reload by bank account, phone or cash, and they’ll refund the purchase price of your first MoneyPak.

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avatar Robert Teter

Do not fall for any of these, except the American Express One, and PLEASE BY ALL MEANS STAY AWAY FROM UPSIDE, or any of that company. also, do not get a card called MIO CARD, they are big time rip off. I have all the upside, and MIO Card, if you want to keep your company do not use these. ONLY American Express pre-paid is the best, I have had no problem with them.

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avatar Taylor Taylor

I’ve been using the MIO card for years and never had a monthly fee. They are better than GreenDot in my opinion but GreenDot is a really good card. I just prefer MIO because you only pay $3.95 reload fee. (They tell yew and the card before you purchase) and itz cheap compared to the ones who charge $4.95+ just to put money on your own card.

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avatar jjt034

I recently signed up for the Mango 6% direct deposit savings account but I guess the fine print did not tell you about first that you had to go thru their “Prepaid” account which hits you with a $5 monthly fee. To get the 6%, the money MUST be in the Savings account (not the prepaid) so that means I had to also create a Mango Savings Account.
I called customer service and they were nice and told me that if I direct deposit over $500 per month that the $5 fee would be waived but I would still have to log in every week and transfer the money from the Prepaid account to the Savings account to get the 6% interest because the direct deposit always goes to the prepaid account only and you do not get any interest in that account.
She also told me for people who deposit less that $500 monthly (that would be me), to avoid the fee keep your prepaid account at $0 but again, that means I must log in every week and transfer the money.
I will be trying this for the next couple of months to see if it actually works and if it does, I guess a little extra work to earn a few extra dollars a month is worth it.

JT

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avatar Chad

It seems that a lot of you with complaints aren’t reading the fine print, then you’re surprised. AMX, Mango, Ready Debit platinum has been rated by BBB as excellent prepaid cards. I own all three and have no problems. I would say AMX is the best hands down. Its like owning an AMX card with the world class AMX perks and fantastic customer service and essentially no fees for a lot of the services

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avatar Pissed12

I have had this card for over a year and had no problems with it until I signed up for direct deposit to have my school refund sent onto it. I called and let Mango know and was assured that it wouldn’t be a problem. Well the refund went onto the card and they blocked my card and requested my ID that I had already sent in when I opened the card. I said sure no problem and emailed it right over. I called and asked if they received it. They said they did and would review it and call me back. No call back. I called and they told me that they closed my account and the money would stay in the account because it wasn’t eligible for a refund. What???? I filed as many complaints as I could, even with the BBB. I have called over 30 times in 3 days and always got 1 of 2 people, Robert and Marciel. Sounds fishy to me especially since they claime to have no further information and can’t or won’t direct me to someone who does. DO NOT USE THIS COMPANY! And yes I read every single word of the terms and conditions which this company does NOT abide by! I even called them out on it and they hung up on me!

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avatar jeynix

Does anyone have the new Chase Liquid? I’m thinking about canceling my Ace card ($9.95/mo) for the Chase card at a whopping five dollars a moths with the same benefits… Is it easy to load? I am looking for a card that is easing to work with since I don’t have direct deposit.

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avatar Nydia Rivera

If you don’t have direct deposit you can load cash to the card from a chase deposit friendly atm for fre or go to a brach and do it also free. Otherwise, you could do use QuickDeposit with a smartphone to deposit your check. There is no other way that I know to load the card.

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avatar David Dyer

I agree that mio card sucks. I bought a card in dollar general, activated it, got the card with my name, put some $$$ in my account, when I tried to use it,…what happened ? transaction denied!

I contacted mio, mio said I need to fax my DL / SSN card to them. I faxed the documents to them, after a few days, they told me they couldn’t find it. So I faxed again, then asked them to check the fax after about 10 minutes, this time, they told me it was not clear and I need to email them. So I emailed them with the scan later. Again, after a few days, when I called, they told me they didn’t find my email. It seems they don’t know how to search for an email with the subject (with reference #).–they would ask you when you emailed, I told them the time, and I kindly told them that mio might use a different timezone from me. They still couldn’t find it. So, just like the first time, I told them to wait and I would do it on the spot. They told me they got it this time, and I need to wait 24-72 working hours. I told them I would close my account after they unlocked my account, and the guy told me I would have to wait 30 days after the account closure for the check to get mailed. What a ripoff company!

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avatar No need to disclose

Does anybody know anything about the Chime Visa Debit card that Dr. Phil ‘ s soon has out?

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