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Prepaid Cards

: The Checking Account Alternative
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  • No Overdraft Fees
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Prepaid Cards
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We work hard to present you with the most accurate prepaid card information, however, this information does not originate from us and thus, we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information.

Before you apply for a prepaid debit card we recommend that you review and verify the card’s terms and conditions on the prepaid card company's web site. Please let us know if you find any differences related to the Prepaid Cards shown on this page.

Ad Disclosure: Certain offers originate from paying advertisers, and this will be noted on a card's details page using the designation "Sponsored Card", where applicable. Advertising may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). At CardHub we try to list as many credit card and prepaid card offers as possible, but we do not make any representation of listing all available offers.

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EXPERT’S ANSWERS

What is a Prepaid Card and How Does It Work?

By: Odysseas Papadimitriou, CardHub CEOA prepaid card is essentially a debit card with two major exceptions: it does not require a bank account and it comes with guaranteed approval. The way it works is that you load money onto a pre-paid, re-loadable account, and spend it until that money runs out. You can easily add money to your prepaid account with cash and in person at thousands of locations, including major grocery stores, drugstores, and gas stations. Prepaid cards also give you the option to have your paychecks directly deposited into your account. This is a much cheaper way to cash your paychecks than going to check cashing stores. A prepaid card works the same as any MasterCard or VISA card. Not only is it useful for making purchases and withdrawing cash, but it also gives you the option to pay your bills online, as opposed to mailing in a check.

Prepaid Card Features & Limitations

By: Richie Bernardo, Personal Finance ReporterFeatures
  1. No need to carry cash: You can load a large amount of money onto your card, which eliminates the need for paper money and coins. Plastic also can protect you from being an easy target of pickpockets.
  2. Direct deposit option: Many prepaid cards offer the option to directly “load” your payroll or government benefits to your prepaid account. Either your employer or government agency will provide the prepaid card to you, in which case they are called a “payroll” or “government benefit” card, respectively.
  3. Online bill pay: Not only can you use a prepaid card to make purchases online, much like with a credit or debit card, but some prepaid cards also offer an online bill payment service that enables you to pay monthly billers that do not accept plastic, or even send checks to friends and family.
  4. ATM cash withdrawal: When you register your prepaid card, you also will receive a PIN number to help you access cash easily.
  5. No initial deposit: Unlike traditional checking accounts that require initial deposits, usually with a minimum amount, you won’t be required to “load” a specific initial amount onto your card when you purchase it.
  6. Second-chance checking: Prepaid cards are useful alternatives for consumers who’ve experienced difficulty qualifying for a traditional checking account or simply don’t want to open one.
  7. Overdraft fees: Prepaid cards do not allow you to overdraw your account, which means you don’t have to worry about overdraft fees.
  8. Multiple cards, single account: Some prepaid cards allow you to purchase a second card for a family member. Both cards will be linked to one account, so both cardholders will have access to the same amount of funds.
Limitations
  1. Credit building: As previously mentioned, you can’t use a prepaid card to build your credit. Neither debit nor prepaid card activities are reported to the three major credit bureaus. Some prepaid card issuers, however, will offer short-term loans after successfully making two direct deposits to your prepaid account. If you’re approved, your loan payments will be recorded on your credit history. If your goal is to build credit, you should instead apply for a secured credit card.
  2. Significant variability: Prepaid cards are a relatively new form of payment and have yet to be regulated in any significant fashion. As a result, there is very little uniformity in the market. That means the fees and features you’ll find from card to card may vary significantly. For instance, some prepaid card issuers make it very difficult to load a physical check into your account, while others make it as simple as snapping a picture with your cell phone. In addition, usage may be free or may cost a few hundred dollars a year, according to CardHub’s 2014 Prepaid Card Report. Consumers must therefore remain vigilant when it comes to comparison shopping.
  3. No credit line: Depending on your perspective, the inability to revolve a balance on a prepaid card may be construed as an inherent disadvantage. On the other hand, debt adverse consumers likely consider this a major plus.

Should I Get a Prepaid Card?

By: Odysseas Papadimitriou, CardHub CEOA prepaid card is a good option if you need an account that allows you to deposit money, pay bills, make purchases with plastic, and withdraw cash at ATMs. As a result, having access to a prepaid card allows you to buy things online and, depending on the policy of the particular company, even rent a car or book a hotel room. If you're wondering whether or not a prepaid card is right for you, it will help to know that prepaid cards have three primary applications: 1) As replacement checking accounts; 2) As financial literacy teaching tools; and 3) As check cashing alternatives. Below you will find an explanation of how prepaid cards serve these purposes and what you should look for when trying to find the right prepaid card for each:
  • Replacement Checking Account: Pretty much everything you can do with a checking account/debit card can also be done with a prepaid card; you just won’t have an actual checkbook. If you plan on using your prepaid card as a replacement checking account, either because the cost of your traditional checking account has risen or you cannot get approved for a traditional checking account, you obviously want one that offers free direct deposit, ATM withdrawals, and online bill pay. In addition, if you are utilizing direct deposit, it's fair to expect not to be charged any monthly fees.
  • Financial Literacy Teaching Tool: Loading your child's allowance onto a prepaid card is a good way to get them started on the road to financial responsibility. Prepaid cards offer online account management, which allows you to review your child’s spending habits with them. You can also give them enough money to last a couple of weeks in order to instill the importance of budgeting. Just getting used to making transactions with plastic will be a benefit as well.If you plan on using your prepaid card as a financial literacy teaching tool, you’ll want a card that has a low monthly fee and no fees for in-network ATM withdrawals or making purchases. In addition, you should avoid cards with inactivity fees or fees for customer service because you don’t want to get your child in the habit of having to make purchases or prevent them from asking questions.
  • Check Cashing Tool: Many people cannot utilize direct deposit, but need to cash paychecks nonetheless. Check cashing stores tend to be expensive, so if you can find a prepaid card that allows you to load checks and withdraw cash for free, that would save you a lot of money in the long run. If you plan on using your prepaid card in this manner, you’ll most likely need a card offered by a large national bank with nearby branches, like the Chase Liquid Card.
  • It's important to note that if you're interested in building your credit history, a secured credit card is a much better option than a prepaid card. Some prepaid cards will allow you to apply for a short-term loan once you have met certain requirements, such as making two direct deposits on your prepaid account. If you are approved for this loan, then your payment history will be reported to the three major credit bureaus.

Tips for Picking the Right Prepaid Card

By: Odysseas Papadimitriou, CardHub CEO
  1. Compare All Available Options: Much like choosing the best credit card for your needs necessitates comparing offers across issuers and product segments, the odds of finding the right prepaid card decline the more you refine your search. So, start by leaving preconceived notions at the door, compare multiple prepaid card offers, and consider whether or not other types of financial products can fulfill your particular needs at a lower cost.
  2. Evaluate Costs Based on Actual Needs & Spending Habits: People have a tendency to become overly focused on major fixed costs like annual and monthly service charges. Such costs are certainly important, but you also mustn’t forget that prepaid cards are known for charging many different small fees that can add up over time. As a result, it’s important to determine exactly how you plan to use your prepaid card (i.e. how you’ll load funds, the number of ATM withdrawals you’ll make, etc.) and then evaluate the cost of each offer in terms of that usage. After all, there is a wide disparity between the best offers on the market (which can be essentially free to use) and those that can end up costing you a few hundred dollars each year.
  3. Don’t Forget About Online Bill Pay, Loading Options, or ATM Access: While cost is undoubtedly important, even a free prepaid card will be effectively useless if it doesn’t offer all of the features you need. As many as 31% of prepaid cards are unsuitable to consumer needs due to a lack of key features.
  4. Read the Fine Print: This advice applies to any financial product you’d apply for, but it’s especially important to verify that there aren’t any hidden fees or caveats associated with a given prepaid card because their newfound popularity means they aren’t regulated quite as well as other, more established types of products.
  5. Use the Island Approach: While the Island Approach is more commonly associated with credit card use, the idea of using different financial accounts to meet different financial needs can apply to prepaid cards as well. For example, some folks may want to get one prepaid card to use as an alternative checking account and another to monitor a child’s spending.

What Does the Term Prepaid Credit Card Mean?

By: Odysseas Papadimitriou, CardHub CEOPrepaid credit card is a misleading term encouraged by prepaid card issuers because it implies that their products have a combination of the best attributes found on prepaid cards and credit cards. One might think that prepaid credit cards would offer lines of credit and credit bureau reporting in addition to standard prepaid card features like guaranteed approval and no initial deposit. However, none of the prepaid cards currently on the market offer lines of credit or report to the major credit bureaus. If you are looking for a second chance checking account, get a prepaid card. But if you want to build or rebuild your credit standing, you should open one a secured credit card.

Prepaid Card vs. Credit Card

By: Richie Bernardo, Personal Finance ReporterPrepaid, or stored value, cards and credit cards have several primary differences:
  • Source of Funds: Whereas a line of credit allows you to spend now and pay later, prepaid card users may spend only the amount loaded onto their cards. Once the balance is depleted, the card no longer may be used until the account is replenished. Simply put, when you use your credit card, you’re borrowing money. When you use your prepaid card, you’re using money you’ve “loaded” onto your card in advance.
  • Credit Building: Prepaid card spending, unlike credit card activity, isn’t tracked by the three major credit bureaus. It therefore cannot help you establish or build credit. If you’re looking to do so, we recommend applying for a secured credit card, which are especially useful for people with poor or no credit.
  • Cost Structure: The primary cost of credit card use derives from interest payments for those who revolve a balance as well as annual membership fees for rewards card holders or people with little or bad credit. Prepaid cards, on the other hand, are known for charging a variety of small fees that can quickly add up over time.
  • Rewards: Credit cards are known for providing rewards – whether cash back, points or miles – for every purchase a cardholder makes. While some prepaid cards may provide modest rewards, such perks are far less common with that type of payment vehicle.

How to Activate & Reload a Prepaid Card

By: Richie Bernardo, Personal Finance ReporterActivating In order to activate your prepaid card, you must provide your full name, street address — P.O. boxes are not allowed — date of birth, Social Security Number or other taxpayer ID number. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you’ll be required to provide another type of identification such as your passport number, alien registration number or other government-issued document that displays your information and photograph. Prepaid card issuers are required by law to obtain this information from customers before activating a card. Reloading There are multiple ways to replenish or reload money onto your prepaid card. You usually can find reload instructions on the card’s packaging or the issuer’s website. Below are some of the common methods.
  • Direct Deposit: You regularly can reload your prepaid card by signing up for direct deposit through your employer or a government agency. With direct deposit, you can receive your paycheck, tax refund or government benefits such as unemployment, Social Security or child support automatically in your prepaid account. Businesses and governments have different procedures for setting up direct deposit. Ask your employer or government agency for enrollment instructions. Direct deposit is by far the most cost-effective means of loading money to a prepaid card.
  • Account Transfer: With many prepaid cards, you can transfer funds from your checking account, if you have one, to your prepaid account. Other prepaid cards allow the user to transfer from another prepaid card. You may be charged a fee for doing so, but you may be able to avoid the fee if you make the transfer online. In some cases, you may even reload through PayPal, an alternative payment system.
  • Reload at Retail Locations: Normally, you can reload your card at the store where you bought it. You also can deposit cash at various locations, including grocery stores, check-cashing stores, gas stations, drugstores or money-transferring agents such as Western Union or MoneyGram. In any case, check with the provider that issued your card for reloading instructions — your provider may have a unique procedure.
  • Reload Pack: With certain prepaid cards, you can add value to your prepaid card by purchasing a reload pack, which is typically available at the same retailer that sold the card. Each pack comes with a preset minimum value, say $20, and a maximum value of maybe $500. Also remember that some packs can only be purchased with cash. One of the most common reload packs is the MoneyPak from GreenDot.

Can You Use a Prepaid Card Online?

By: John Kiernan, Personal Finance EditorYes, prepaid cards can certainly be used online. There is, however, one caveat. In order to use a prepaid card online, you may first need to register the card under your name. When you buy a prepaid card at a retail location, it is anonymous until you activate it, which means a lot of online merchants will not accept it since there will not be a name and address to match your card number.

What is a Virtual Prepaid Card and How Does it Work?

By: John Kiernan, Personal Finance EditorA virtual prepaid card is exactly what the name suggests: a prepaid card account that is not linked to a physical card and is tailored to online usage. The issuer of such an account provides you with a card number, expiration date, and CVV code so you can easily make transactions. Such cards are becoming more popular with the rise of online only banks and the virtual wallet technology that is becoming increasingly available on smartphones. Mango and Entropay are two of the issuers of virtual prepaid cards. It’s generally a good idea not to limit your search for a prepaid card to virtual cards because there is less variety in this niche segment of the market and you can make purchases online with a normal prepaid card anyway.

Can You Use a Prepaid Card at an ATM?

By: John Kiernan, Personal Finance EditorYes, as checking account alternatives, prepaid cards are certainly able to be used at ATMs. In fact, making a prepaid card ATM withdrawal is essentially the same as using a debit card. You simply insert your card into the ATM, input your PIN, and complete your transaction – whether you’re checking your prepaid card account balance or withdrawing cash. As is the case with a checking account and debit card combo, you need to watch out for incurring unnecessary fees when using your card at an ATM. The best way to minimize prepaid card ATM fees is to open an account that provides free withdrawals at a large network of ATMs and then only withdraw cash from in-network terminals. You can get a sense of what different prepaid cards charge for ATM withdrawals and how large their corresponding networks are by looking at the details pages associated with the cards listed above.

Do Prepaid Cards Expire?

By: John Kiernan, Personal Finance EditorYes, as is the case with credit cards and debit cards, prepaid cards do expire. The expiration date for a prepaid card will appear on the front of your permanent card, which you will receive after you have registered your account using your name and Social Security Number. The expiration date will make it easier to use your card online, as you will have something to input in the corresponding field on a merchant’s checkout page. When your card is nearing expiration, make sure your issuer has your latest mailing address on file and update any subscription or automatic billing information for which you are using your card as payment in order to avoid unnecessary service interruptions.
COMMUNITY DISCUSSION

Help others find the best prepaid card by sharing what your deciding factor was when choosing your card (customer service, interest rate, fees, convenience, rewards, etc.)

 
September 30, 2014
Photo of Baba B.
By:
We have have a prepaid Green Dot card and we love it! It works wonderfully for providing the teens with a set budget for things like school clothes shopping. We can add to the card very quickly online and send the teens out with not only a set spending limit but a report back as to where the money was spent and when.
September 12, 2014
Photo of Joshua R.
By:
I love to use my prepaid credit card because it makes sending money much easier and there are no fees that will completely destroy your life. These cards are great for children to have as long as the cards are limited, they really are the best gift for anyone. I am so happy to have my card because i also know that i can spend money easily and I wont regret the decision in the future. Overall, having one of these cards can only save you money and time, I think that everyone should have one.
September 4, 2014
Photo of Tenna W.
By:
I have prepaid cards I bought for my sons to use. It is easy to send them money without the hassle of having to go to Western Union and pay outrageous fees. I have two boys that live very far away and it's really hard for me to figure out what they want for their birthdays and holidays. The best things I have ever purchased was these cards. Prepaid cards take the money directly from my checking account and applies it to their card, instant.. How easy can that be? Unreal easy. If you got kids, do this.. save yourself a lot of hassle in the future.
August 16, 2014
Photo of Justin R.
By:
I have a prepaid card and I prefer it over the debit card I have linked to my bank account for a few reasons. There are no overdraft fees and I can only spend the amount of money I added to the card. So the possibility of over drafting is nonexistent. I have been burned many times by my bank because I have over drafted. Another reason I like it is because I don't ever have to worry about it damaging my credit.
August 14, 2014
Photo of Tru L.
By:
I'm looking for a prepaid debit card for our employees that I can fund with our business bank account. The few I can find that will link a bank account want the account name and the card holders' names to be the same. Any suggestions?
September 8, 2014
Photo of Card H.
The name on the account and the name on the card need to match for the primary account holder (i.e. the business owner in this case). After that, the employees can be added as authorized users. You might also want to explore small business credit cards given their ability to set a different spending limit on each employee card. You can go here >> http://www.cardhub.com/credit-cards/business/
August 3, 2014
Photo of Laurel S.
By:
I have a prepaid netspend card as it was my only option because of some other issues I was having with other cards. I really don't like it, they offer a $9.99 per month plan for unlimited pin purchases and $1.00 signature transactions. I chose to opt out of that. Instead, I let my money build up on it and only take out the cash once or twice a month, because the fee is $2.00 PER transaction. Kind of ridiculous, if you ask me, but it is a convenience if you can't get a bank account or credit card. I would give it a five out of ten
July 22, 2014
Photo of Jim F.
By:
I was offered a prepaid MasterCard by my bank. I opened a separate bank account for this,and the card came in the mail right away, within 4 or 5 days. The annual fee is 24.95, the interest rate 22%.That seem quite high, but I always pay the bill as soon as I get it, so I pay no interest. My credit isn't that good, I have a couple negatives on the report, and haven't used any credit for some time. I am using the card to re-establish my credit history and raise my credit score.
July 18, 2014
Photo of Brian B.
By:
I currently have a basic prepaid Mastercard that was given to me as a gift for my birthday a couple of years ago. I decided to hang on to it and every so often, I will throw some money on it to help out with food and gas. I haven’t really had any issues with the card, regarding hidden fees. It’s been pretty simple and smooth sailing for the most part with the card. I would recommend the card for beginners and someone isn't necessarily a fan of general credit cards. It's also, obviously, a decent gift for someone.
June 28, 2014
Photo of Sarah M.
By:
Before establishing my credit I used the Visa Netspend card. I do not recommend this card. There are loads of hidden fees that come along with it. I would have my pay checks loaded onto this card and expect a certain amount but I would always have less due to hidden fees. I would only get this card if you absolutely need some type of card.
June 18, 2014
Photo of Andy S.
By:
I use the American Express Serve Prepaid Card. I love it because they often have a lot of promotions like receiving $25 the first time you load $25 into your account. Sometimes you can also tweet certain hash tags on Twitter like the McDonald's promotion where you get $5 back if you spend $5 or more. You can use the Serve card anywhere American Express is accepted so you can use it just like a normal card. You can use it for gas or to make purchase at the store or online. Just make sure you have enough funds in it.
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