The 7 Best Prepaid Debit Cards of 2019

Banking without a bank? It's possible with prepaid debit cards.

Bank fees can add up. A GOBankingRates survey found that Americans pay an average of $7 per month in such fees. When you also consider that a single bounced check can cost you up to $37 –according to that same survey –eliminating the risk of overdrawing your account can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in the long run. That’s where prepaid debit cards come in.

Prepaid debit cards can be a good solution for people who don’t bank the traditional way. Approximately one in 10 Americans don’t have a checking account, according to the GOBankingRates 2019 Banking Report. If you’re one of the unbanked, a prepaid debit card — and your smartphone — can become your low-cost mobile bank, helping you avoid expensive checking account charges like monthly account maintenance and overdraft fees.

Here’s everything you need to know about prepaid debit cards and how they can work for you.

What Is a Prepaid Debit Card?

A prepaid debit card doesn’t link to a checking account to cover purchases. Instead, you load a certain amount of money onto the card. You don’t have to worry about overspending or going over the limit because you can only spend as much as you’ve prepaid. And unlike credit cards, prepaid debit cards don’t require a credit history check or a bank account.

Prepaid debit cards are issued by financial institutions such as Visa, Mastercard or American Express, making it possible to pay anywhere credit cards are accepted. The best prepaid debit cards come with features similar to a checking account:

  • ATM withdrawal capability
  • Purchases anywhere credit cards are accepted
  • Online bill pay
  • Funding through mobile check deposit or direct deposit

In addition, a prepaid debit card can be reloaded at local retailers or banks using cash.

Use a prepaid debit card to keep your budget on track by managing overspending. You can only spend as much as the card has available, saving you from having to deal with a negative balance. Load the card with a dollar amount of your choice. Once you’ve spent the money you’ve paid toward the card, the card will decline without charging you a penalty, saving you money in overdraft and over-the-limit fees.

Survey: It’s a Card-Obsessed World, but Cash Is Still King — Here’s Why

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How Is a Prepaid Debit Card Different From a Regular Debit Card?

Each type of debit card — prepaid and regular — has its pros and cons. To start, here are the advantages and disadvantages of prepaid debit cards.

Prepaid debit card pros:

  • No bank account needed to have a prepaid debit card
  • Convenient card loading via app or at a bank or retailer
  • Help manage daily purchases and control spending
  • No returned payment or overdraft fees

Prepaid debit card cons:

Next, here are the pros and cons of regular debit cards. See how they compare with those of prepaid debit cards.

Regular debit card pros:

  • Convenient because linked to a checking account
  • Funds automatically withdraw to pay off charges made with debit card

Regular debit card cons:

  • Require a bank account, which may be an issue with low credit score
  • Overdraft fees for a negative balance can be expensive

Learn About: Prepaid Business Credit Cards

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Where Do I Get a Prepaid Debit Card?

There are many prepaid debit cards available from retailers, credit card issuers and banks. Each card has its own terms and conditions, features and fees. Financial institutions usually gear their cards toward a particular consumer, so how do you choose from so many options? Simple: By knowing what your financial goals are and how the card will fit into your lifestyle.

GOBankingRates reviewed all the fine print to help you make the best choice.

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What To Look for in a Prepaid Debit Card

The best prepaid debit cards offer convenient features and low fees. Even though debit cards rarely require a credit check, make sure to choose a card that doesn’t. Even if you have good credit, a hard inquiry on your credit report can temporarily affect your credit score. Too many hard inquiries can cause an issue if you’re about to apply for a mortgage or loan.

Look for cards that offer convenient ways to load money and pay for expenses like:

  • Option of topping up your card at a physical location near you
  • Free direct deposit
  • Making mobile check deposits using your phone’s camera to scan a paper check
  • Using online bill pay to schedule and pay bills

Unfortunately, a prepaid card doesn’t come without fees. Some fees to look out for include:

  • ATM fees
  • Balance-inquiry fees
  • Inactivity fees for not using your card
  • Monthly fees
  • Point-of-sale transaction fees
  • Reload fees

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Best Prepaid Debit Cards

When it comes to choosing a prepaid debit card, there’s no shortage of choices. To help, here are the top seven prepaid debit cards per category for you to compare:

Best Prepaid Debit Cards
Card“Best For” CategoryMonthly FeesATM Fees
Moven Prepaid MastercardOverall Winner$0$0 at STAR surcharge-free ATMs and other ATMs; international fees apply Prepaid MastercardATM Withdrawals$9.95 per month if you deposit less than $1000 per monthFree through extensive network, $2.95 at other ATMs
Akimbo Prepaid MastercardNo Fees$0$1.98 per withdrawal
MOVO Digital Prepaid Visa CardCash Reloads$0$2
American Express BluebirdClosest To Having a Checking Account$0In-network $0; out-of-network $2.50
BBVA ClearSpend Visa CardBest for Funding Between Friends and Family$4.00 per month if you deposit less than $400 per monthIn-network $0; out-of-network $2
FamZoo Prepaid CardBest for Kids$2.50 to $5.99 per month$0

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Best Overall Winner: Moven Prepaid Mastercard

Moven offers innovative services through its app and website. Because it saves money on physical-location overhead, it can offer low to no-fee products like this prepaid debit Mastercard.

Advantages: Moven does not charge any fees unless you make an international ATM transaction with your card. Everyday spending is tracked automatically in real time via the app to make budgeting simple. You can set up text or email alerts to receive notifications or reports.

Disadvantages: The free mobile check-cashing service is slow to fund your account with 10-day processing times. You can rush processing, however, by paying a fee of at least $5 or up to 5% of the check amount for same-day check deposits.

Card Purchase Fee: None

Monthly Fee: None

Reload Fee: None in most cases, although reloading through the Mastercard rePower network may incur a fee

Reload Methods:

  • Cash reload through the Mastercard rePower network
  • Direct deposit
  • Mobile check deposit

ATM Fees: $0; out-of-network ATM operators may charge fees

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Best ATM Withdrawals: Prepaid Mastercard

If you make regular ATM withdrawals, having a selection of conveniently-located ATMs that don’t charge any fees is crucial. The Prepaid Mastercard gives you nationwide ATM access through the huge MoneyPass network of 32,000 ATM machines. And like all the prepaid debit card winners, you don’t have to deal with a credit score check.

Advantages: Perks include useful online banking tools that make it simple to check your balance, transfer money and search for ATMs. Also, according to the card issuer, by enrolling in direct deposit, you’ll have access to deposits up to two days earlier.

Disadvantages: Fees can add up if you don’t follow the terms and conditions. A monthly $9.95 maintenance fee applies if you don’t deposit $1,000 or more per month, plus you could incur a reload fee of up to $5.95. Making larger and fewer deposits saves you some money on these fees. Or skip them altogether by setting up free direct deposits of at least $1000 per month with your employer.

Card Purchase Fee: None

Monthly Fee: $9.95 per month if you deposit less than $1,000 per month

Reload Fee: $0 to $5.95 per reload

Reload Methods:

  • Bank transfers
  • Cash reloads through Green Dot Reload or MoneyPak locations for a fee of up to $5.95
  • Direct deposit
  • Mobile check deposit
  • Virtual Wallet transfers using PayPal or Google Wallet

ATM Fees: Free through MoneyPass ATMs; $2.95 outside the network.

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Best No-Fee Card: Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard

If you’re trying to stick to a tight budget, Akimbo is a lifesaver. There are no monthly fees to worry about, and planning your budget is easy with the options offered. For example, you can order up to five extra cards that link to the main one to set each one up as a spending category — like gas, groceries and entertainment. Load each card with a monthly spending amount to track your spending habits and stick to your budget.

Advantages: Each card can be ordered with a printed category label to know what it’s for to help with budgeting. Plus, the Akimbo app is one of the best of the prepaid debit card apps. Set up real-time text alerts for transactions, view reports and make your monthly budget stretch further by setting a weekly allowance that limits your spending.

Disadvantages: The first five PIN-based debit purchases cost 99 cents each for up to $4.95 per month. To avoid this fee, use the card as a credit card and not a debit card.

Card Purchase Fee: Free initial card and one free replacement; $4.95 thereafter

Monthly Fee: None; $5.95 fee if the card remains inactive for a year.

Reload Fee: None

Reload Methods:

  • Bank transfer
  • Cash reload through retailers participating in the Mastercard rePower network
  • Card-to-card transfers
  • Direct deposit
  • Mobile check deposit

ATM Fees: $1.98 per withdrawal

Read: Here’s Where Americans Are Storing Most of Their Wealth

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Best for Cash Reloads: MOVO Digital Prepaid Visa Card

When a variety of cash-reload options are important, the MOVO Digital prepaid Visa card won’t let you down. Unique ways you can fund your card include Paypal and converted cryptocurrency transfers.

Advantages: If you shop online often, this card is the safest of the card winners for online use. Besides a physical card for in-person transactions, the card’s virtual features add a layer of safety and privacy when making online purchases. You can create free single-use virtual cards with a temporary card number that hides and protects your main account number during online transactions. The card is compatible with Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

Disadvantages: PayPal and bank transfers can take up to two to three business days before the funds are available.

Card Purchase Fee: None

Monthly Fee: None; $4.95 fee per month will be charged after three months of inactivity

Reload Fee: Varies according to retailer

Reload Method:

  • Cash reload at Visa Readylink, MoneyPak and Reload @ Register retailers
  • Cryptocurrency conversion transfers for a fee of 2% + $2 per transaction
  • Direct deposit
  • Mobile check deposit
  • PayPal balance withdrawals

ATM Fees: $0 via Visa Plus Alliance network; $2 fee at other ATMs

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Closest To Having a Checking Account: American Express Bluebird

American Express Bluebird improves on American Express Serve prepaid debit cards by cutting out the monthly fees. But what makes this prepaid card a winner are the features you’d expect from a traditional checking account, like paper check writing and a linked savings account — all for free.

Advantages: Besides the banking perks mentioned, Walmart shoppers will love this card’s integration with the retailer — top the card up for free at the register while you check out.

Disadvantages: American Express cards aren’t accepted in as many places as Mastercard or Visa.

Card Purchase Fee: None

Monthly Fee: None

Reload Fee: None

Reload Methods:

  • Cash reload at Walmart stores
  • Debit card transfers
  • Direct deposit
  • Mobile check deposit

ATM Fees: Free withdrawals at 33,000 MoneyPass ATMs

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Best for Funding Between Friends and Family: BBVA ClearSpend Visa Card

BBVA makes sending money between friends and family simple thanks to the integration of Paypal, Popmoney and Venmo. Scheduling a transfer from the apps to your card is quick, easy and free.

Advantages: The free online transfers from Paypal, Popmoney and Venmo take a maximum of two to three business days to post, or fund the card instantly by visiting a BBVA branch.

Disadvantages: It’s only available at this time in states with BBVA branches – Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Texas.

Card Purchase Fee: None

Monthly Fee: $4.00 per month; waived if you deposit at least $400 per month

Reload Fee: None, usually; Visa ReadyLink location up to $4.50 per reload

Reload Methods:

  • Bank transfers
  • Visa ReadyLink locations
  • Direct deposit
  • Mobile check deposit
  • Paypal, Popmoney and Venmo

ATM Fees: $0 in-network; $2 out-of-network

Check Out: 5 Best Check-Cashing Apps

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Best for Kids: FamZoo Prepaid Card

Teach your kids and teens about money and budgeting by loading their allowance onto their own kid-friendly FamZoo prepaid debit card.

Advantages: You can track up to four cards using the well-designed app or website. Parents can check card balances, get text and email alerts about spending activity, send each child an allowance and even pay them interest. Each child can learn more about financial literacy by viewing infographics that track chores, how close they are to meeting their set savings goals and more.

Disadvantages: A monthly subscription fee of $2.50 to $5.99 per month is higher than other prepaid cards.

Card Purchase Fee: None

Monthly Fee: $2.50 to $5.99, depending on number of cards

Reload Fee: None

Reload Methods:

  • Bank transfer
  • Cash top-ups at retailers
  • PopMoney
  • Direct deposit
  • Apple Pay, PayPal, Square Cash transfers

ATM Fees: Fee-free withdrawals from 33,000 MoneyPass ATM networks; no out-of-network fees unless charged by ATM owner

See: 7 Best Apps to Teach Your Kids About Money

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Save Money and Skip Teller Lines With Prepaid Debit Cards

Replacing a traditional bank account with prepaid debit cards may sound unconventional, but it has its advantages. You’ll save money on banking fees, especially if you can have your paychecks direct deposited to your debit card account. And prepaid debit card apps will save you time by virtually handling tasks you’d normally have to visit a bank for.

You may be in a phase in your life where you need time to rebuild your credit history before approaching a bank. Or maybe it’s time for a spending overhaul to get your finances back on track. Setting a budget and complementing it using prepaid debit cards could help you develop healthy financial habits to reach your goals.

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Unless otherwise noted, information on accounts, fees and rates is accurate as of Oct. 23, 2019. This content is not provided by any of the companies or financial institutions mentioned. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author alone and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the companies or financial institutions.

Methodology: GOBankingRates determined the best prepaid debit cards of 2019 by analyzing 41 popular prepaid debit cards along the following criteria: 1) card purchase fee; 2) monthly service fee; if cards offer pay-as-you-go plan or monthly plan, the monthly plan service fee was counted; 3) card reload fee; and 4) out-of-network ATM withdrawal fee. Each factor was scored, added up and then ranked. All data came from debit cards’ websites and compiled Oct. 3, 2019.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone and have not been endorsed by American Express.