Best Basic Prepaid Debit Card

American Express Serve
  • Low monthly fees
  • Easy-to-use app and website for members
  • No fee withdrawals at in-network ATMs
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Card attributes
  • Variable APR
    n/a
  • Cash Advance APR
    n/a
  • Rewards Rate
    n/a
  • Annual Fee
    $1 per month
  • Intro APR
    n/a
  • Bonus Offers
    n/a
Featured in

  • 24-hour customer support makes it easy to rectify issues day or night
  • A handy budgeting tool helps you stay on top of where your money goes
  • Offers several ways to load the card for free
  • You'll pay up to $3.95 for cash reloads at some retail locations
  • No option to write checks
  • No rewards
Details

How to get one: There are tons of places where you can get a Serve prepaid debit card. Buy one at a gas station such as 7-Eleven, pick one up at Rite Aid or Walmart, or request one online. There’s no fee if you order a card online, but you’ll spend $4 or $5 if you do it in a store.

Who accepts it: Well-known retailers and restaurants, such as Walmart, Target, and McDonald’s, accept Serve payments. We’ve had some issues using it at local mom-and-pop shops, so carry a backup debit or credit card if you plan to visit small businesses or stores that don’t accept American Express.

Features: Features vary based on which plan you choose. We love the 1% cash back option for the American Express Serve Cash Back card, but we also dig the $0 cash reload fee associated with the American Express Serve Free Reloads card. All 3 cards available from Serve offer fraud protection and no fee, in-network ATM withdrawals, and we’re thankful we can upload paychecks from our smartphone instead of mailing them to American Express.

Fees: Fees are reasonable for the American Express Serve card. They’re average compared to other prepaid debit and credit cards, which is partly why we named this the Best Basic Prepaid Debit Card. The regular Serve card only charges $1 per month for maintenance, and you can get that fee waived if you add at least $500 per month via direct deposit. We’ve already told you about the fee-free ATM withdrawals, but we’re going to go ahead and mention them one last time because they totally rock. Heck, sometimes regular bank accounts even charge for ATM withdrawals.

Faveable Review

More than half of Americans have acquired a prepaid card at some point, and it wasn’t always to replace a checking or savings account. Millennials in particular appreciate the convenience of prepaid debit cards, but they’re also used by employers, parents and people with shared accounts who want a private place to stash funds.

The American Express Bluebird and the American Express Serve card are popular options for folks seeking prepaid cards. We’ve already reviewed the Bluebird card and ranked it highly, and the Serve card offers some of the same perks. Read on for a detailed review of this popular debit card alternative so you can decide if it’s a good option for you.

AMERICAN EXPRESS SERVE PREPAID DEBIT CARD REVIEW

Prepaid debit cards are notorious for high fees and limited perks, but the American Express Serve card treats customers better than most prepaid card companies. The Serve card is one of the best prepaid cards we’ve used, but as with every card, it has its cons.

There is a monthly fee, even though it’s minimal, and sometimes smaller companies and online billing systems don’t accept the card. However, you can waive the monthly fee by hitting the $500 direct deposit threshold.

A practical “reserve” option mimics the role of a savings account and helps you stay within your budget. However, you may get bombarded with cash-loading fees if you’re not someone who adds funds digitally.

Cash-loading fees aside, this is a solid prepaid card. Let’s review the perks below.

AMERICAN EXPRESS SERVE PREPAID DEBIT CARD PERKS AND BENEFITS

The American Express Serve prepaid debit card doesn’t offer any rewards, but don’t let that discourage you from requesting a card.

There are numerous perks to being a Serve cardholder, including:

 

  • Early direct deposit access - Some members receive digital deposits up to 2 days in advance
  • 24-hour Roadside Assistance hotline - Get gas, have a flat tire replaced, or request towing services for a fee
  • Purchase Protection - Receive up to $1,000 per purchase, with a $50,000 annual cap, if theft or damage occur
  • Exclusive Amex discounts - Save money on dining, shopping, and more when you pay with your Serve card
  • Cash reloads - Add cash by visiting one of the more than 45,000 locations that accept Serve funds
  • Fraud protection - You’re off the hook if a scammer treats himself with your card
  • FDIC Insurance - Protects your funds while they’re in your account
  • Global Assist Hotline - Make the most of your vacation by calling this hotline with questions or concerns as you travel
  • Subaccounts - Easily distribute digital funds to family members or friends

 

AMERICAN EXPRESS SERVE PREPAID DEBIT CARD COSTS AND FEES

Fees aren’t excessive for the American Express Serve card. In fact, you may encounter fewer fees with this card than you would with a traditional bank account.

For starters, there’s a $1 monthly maintenance fee. If that doesn’t suit your frugal nature, then make sure you deposit at least $500 per month via direct deposit so you can get the fee waived. Also, there are 3 states that don’t have to pay monthly maintenance fees: Vermont, Texas, and New York.

Fees start racking up if you add cash to your card regularly. Each cash upload costs $3.95, and there isn’t an option to waive that fee for this card.

You can deposit funds free via direct deposit, check, or bank account transfer. However, there is a 5% fee if you utilize Money in Minutes for a check with a handwritten signature and a 1% fee for government checks. Cardholders report waiting up to 10 days for funds to clear when they don’t use this feature, so it may be worth the price if you have a bill due quickly.

Speaking of bills, you can pay them for free with Online Bill Pay. You can also send money to other cardholders for free.

ATM fees are on the low end, especially since numerous other debit and prepaid cards have fees ranging from $3.95 to $5.95. There’s no withdrawal fee if you take out money from a MoneyPass ATM, and you pay just $2.50 at other ATMs.

Cash pickup powered by Ria costs up to $9.49 per withdrawal, so stick with ATM withdrawals when possible. Ria is ideal if you need a large sum at once, up to $900, and you’ve already hit your daily ATM withdrawal max.

If you’re traveling abroad, keep in mind there’s a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

DOES THE AMERICAN EXPRESS SERVE PREPAID DEBIT CARD MAKE SENSE FOR ME?

Yes, if you prefer to keep fees to a minimum and need an alternative or supplement for a traditional bank account. This card doesn’t require a credit check, so it’s great for people recovering from bankruptcy or strengthening their credit history.

If the regular Serve card doesn’t quite meet your needs, you may prefer the Serve Cash Back or the Serve FREE Reloads card.

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