3 Best Prepaid Debit Cards of 2018

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For people who can’t qualify for a credit or debit card — or simply don’t want one — prepaid debit cards can be an effective alternative.

Prepaid debit cards make it easy to control your spending and avoid costly overdraft fees because you can spend only what you load onto the card. Some are even coupled with a high-yield savings account, making saving for the future more lucrative.

However, other prepaid debit cards come with a bunch of fees, so it’s important to compare the best ones to maximize your savings.

Why you should consider a prepaid debit card

Prepaid debit cards differ from credit and debit cards in that they’re reloadable — whatever money you add is the amount you’re able to spend. Also, they’re not tied to a credit line or checking account, so you don’t need to worry about paying interest or overdraft fees.

A prepaid debit card can be a great budgeting tool because once the balance is gone, it’s gone. You can add a certain amount of money to the card each week or month and easily hold yourself to spending only that amount.

Plus, since there’s no credit line, prepaid debit cards don’t require a credit check.

At a glance: The best prepaid debit cards

Here’s a quick summary of the best prepaid debit cards. Read on to learn more about each card and its features, benefits, and drawbacks.

Bluebird by American Express

If you’re fee-averse, the Bluebird by American Express is about as good as it gets.

Benefits

Low fees

You won’t be charged a fee for any of the following:

  • Monthly maintenance
  • Activation
  • Online account opening (you might be charged up to $5 to open an account at a retail location)
  • Direct deposit
  • Cash reload at Walmart (other retail locations might charge up to $3.95 per reload)
  • Online reload with a debit card
  • Mobile check deposit (takes 10 days for the money to be available)
  • Withdrawal at MoneyPass ATMs (25,000-plus ATMs nationwide)
  • Bill pay
  • Stop payment
  • Sending money to other Bluebird accounts
  • Foreign exchange
  • Inactivity
  • Replacement card

Subaccounts

If you share your finances with a significant other or have a family, the Bluebird’s family accounts make it easy to manage your money together:

  • You can have up to four cards total (including yours).
  • Cardholders can fund cards online or with the Bluebird mobile app.
  • You can set daily spending limits, create alerts, and turn ATM access on or off for each card.

Other perks

With the Bluebird, you’ll get several benefits that aren’t common among prepaid debit cards, including:

  • Purchase protection: in case an item you purchase is damaged or stolen
  • Fraud protection: in case your card is lost or stolen
  • Amex Offers: discounts and cash-back offers at restaurants and retailers
  • Roadside assistance hotline: a tow truck or locksmith in case of an emergency on the road
  • Access to advance ticket sales: tickets to concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment before the masses

Drawbacks

Can’t reload via your checking account

The Bluebird offers a few free ways to add money to your account, but a checking account isn’t one of them.

If you have a checking account but no debit card, your only fee-free options to add money are direct deposit and cash reloads at Walmart.

Acceptance

American Express isn’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard in the U.S. or internationally. Be sure to keep cash on hand in case a small retailer won’t accept your card as a form of payment.

Mango Visa Prepaid Card

As of July 2017, the average annual percentage yield (APY) for savings accounts in the U.S. is a measly 0.06%. With the best online savings accounts, you can get up to 1.10% APY, but even that number pales in comparison to what the Mango Visa Prepaid Card offers.

Benefits

High savings APY

With Mango, you can get up to 6.00% APY on balances up to $5,000. So you could earn $300 per year with a $5,000 balance, compared to $3 per year with the average savings account.

The only caveat is that you must have a net direct deposit of $800 or more each month and a minimum balance of $1 at the end of the month. Mango defines net direct deposits as direct deposit transfers into your account minus transfers out.

You’ll earn 2.00% APY on balances up to $5,000 if you don’t meet the requirements. If your balance is more than $5,000, you’ll earn 0.10% APY on the portion of the balance over $5,000.

Referral program

Although Mango doesn’t offer subaccounts, you can invite your significant other to join Mango and get a $10 referral bonus. They must enroll, activate the card, and receive a recurring direct deposit of at least $50 for you to get the bonus.

You also can refer family and friends; there’s no limit to how many referral bonuses you can receive.

Drawbacks

Fees

You’ll pay a $3 monthly maintenance fee with the card. Other fees include:

  • $2 fee every time you withdraw money from an ATM
  • $1 fee for ATM balance inquiries
  • 2 percent currency conversion fee when you use your card abroad

For cash reloads, you’ll pay up to $4.95 per transaction, depending on which retailer you use. Participating retailers include Walmart, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Kmart, and more.

If you plan to use the Mango savings account, the interest you earn could easily make up for the fees. You also won’t pay a fee for the following activities:

  • Signing up
  • Activation
  • Transferring money to another Mango card
  • Bank transfer load
  • Direct deposit
  • PayPal transfer load

Some key features are missing

The Mango card doesn’t offer bill pay or mobile check deposits. You also can’t add multiple cards per account to share with family.

The card’s savings component is unbeatable, but if you’re looking for a prepaid debit card that offers the whole kit and caboodle, this one isn’t it. 

No zero-liability fraud protection

Mango shares tips on its website to avoid fraud, but it won’t give you full protection from fraudulent purchases.

If fraud does occur, you can submit a dispute with Mango, which can take 45 to 90 days to resolve. But ultimately, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the money back.

American Express Serve Cash Back

The American Express Serve Cash Back is a rare prepaid debit card in that it offers rewards on purchases. Depending on how much you spend, you could easily make up for some, if not all, of the card’s fees.

Benefits

Cash-back rewards

The Serve Cash Back card offers unlimited 1 percent cash back on all purchases. The amount you earn gets added to your prepaid debit card account, and you can use it for future purchases.

Let’s say you spend $1,500 per month with your prepaid debit card. You’ll earn $15 per month in rewards — or $180 per year. Even among debit cards that offer rewards, you won’t get that kind of return.

Note that ATM withdrawals, fees, and bill pay transactions aren’t considered purchases and don’t earn cash back.

Subaccounts

If you want to add children or a significant other to your account, the Serve Cash Back allows you to do so. Keep in mind, though, that purchases on a subaccount don’t earn cash back.

Other perks

Like the Bluebird, the Serve Cash Back offers fraud protection if your card is lost or stolen. You’ll also get purchase protection in case an item you purchase is lost or damaged. For ATM withdrawals, you’ll get access to more than 24,000 ATMs fee-free through the MoneyPass network.

Drawbacks

Fees

Although the card offers 1 percent cash back on every purchase, you’ll have to spend at least $595 per month to make up for the card’s monthly fee of $5.95. You’ll also pay up to $3.95 per cash reload, regardless of where you do it.

There are no fees for the following:

  • Signing up online (up to $3.95 through a retailer)
  • Direct deposit
  • Bank transfer reload
  • Bill pay
  • Sending and receiving money between Serve accounts
  • Adding a subaccount
  • Card replacement

Acceptance

Like the Bluebird, the Serve Cash Back is issued by American Express. Because some small businesses might not accept American Express, keep a bit of cash in your wallet.

Should you choose a prepaid debit card?

Prepaid debit cards are a perfect choice if you have trouble with overspending or want help sticking to your budget. They’re also a nice alternative to credit and debit cards if you can’t qualify for either.

But if you’re looking to build credit, a prepaid debit card isn’t for you. Since there’s no credit line involved, prepaid debit cards don’t help build credit. If that’s what you’re looking for, consider a secured credit card instead.

As you compare the best prepaid debit cards, focus on the features that matter most to you. For example, if you spend a lot, you’ll likely earn enough rewards with the Serve Cash Back to more than make up for its fees.

If you’re more interested in avoiding fees, though, the Bluebird might be a better choice. The good news is that applying for prepaid debit cards doesn’t affect your credit or ChexSystems record.

Banks report checking and savings account activity to ChexSystems, and having several bank accounts on your record can raise red flags. So if one prepaid debit card doesn’t work out for you, there’s no harm in switching to another.

To avoid the extra work, though, make an effort to get the right card the first time.

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.