It is estimated that about 40 million Americans do not have a bank account. The reasons for this vary. For many, they are unable to qualify for a bank account because of past bounced checks. Bounce too many checks, and you’ll find yourself in the Chexsystems, which many banks use to evaluate potential new banking customers. For others it’s simply a distrust of the banking system or frustration with limited hours or the hoops one has to jump through to get service.
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Whatever the reason, the unbanked often turned to expensive check cashing stores to cash their weekly paychecks. Time Magazine wrote about this phenomenon, which costs consumers $10 billion a year in fees charged by check cashing stores, payday loan providers, and others. It’s not at all uncommon for consumers to spend 3% or more to get a paycheck cashed.
In addition to high cost, check cashing stores present several other problems to consumers. First, there is the question of security. Taking your paycheck to a check cashing store and walking out with hundreds of dollars in cash is like wearing a bulls eye on your back. Second, there is simply the question of inconvenience. The weekly trip to a check cashing store takes time and gas.
For those that can’t get a checking account or simply don’t want one, there is a no cost, convenient, and safe alternative to check cashing stores–a free prepaid credit card with no fees or low fees.
List of Low Fee and Free Prepaid Cards
The key to finding the right prepaid credit card is to find one that charges no fees or very small fees. All prepaid cards charge various fees, but some of them waive some or all of the fees if you sign up for direct deposit. So here are the top free prepaid cards and low fee prepaid cards to consider.
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Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card
|Kaiku® Visa® Prepaid Card|
|READYdebit® Visa Prepaid Card|
|AccountNow® Gold Visa® Prepaid Card|
|AchieveCard Visa® Prepaid Card|
|READYdebit® Visa Mint Control Prepaid Card|
|MoneyGram® AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Debit Card|
|AccountNow® Prepaid Visa® Card|
|READYdebit® Visa Latte Control Prepaid Card|
How a Prepaid Card Works
A prepaid credit card works very similar to a bank debit or ATM card. You can add money to the prepaid card and use it anywhere Visa or MasterCard debit cards are accepted. Money can be added to most prepaid cards in one of several ways:
- Direct Deposit: Most prepaid cards allow you to have your paycheck, government check, or benefits check deposited directly onto the card. As described below, the direct deposit feature is extremely convenient and allows you to obtain a prepaid card for free or for a small monthly fee.
- Cash Networks: Cash can be added to most prepaid cards through one of several cash networks, including Green Dot, MoneyGram, Western Union, or Visa Money Link. These cash networks are located at many nearby stores, such as CVS, Walmart, Kroger, and UPS.
- Money Share: Prepaid cards also permit you to transfer funds from one card account to another. This is a convenient way to transfer money to friends and family, and is why many college students carry prepaid cards.
Prepaid cards are part of either the Visa or MasterCard debit card network. As a result, prepaid cards can be used anywhere that Visa debit or MasterCard debit cards are accepted (which is just about everywhere). You can also use prepaid cards at ATM machines to withdraw cash.
Benefits of a Free Prepaid Credit Card
Prepaid credit cards offer several benefits beyond a simple ATM card. Perhaps the key benefit is direct deposit of paychecks, government checks, and benefit checks. There are several prepaid cards that will waive all fees if you have your paycheck direct deposited to the card. With direct deposit, your paycheck will be added to your card on payday. You don’t have to go to the trouble and expense of driving to a check cashing store to cash your paycheck. And the money is available immediately. If you receive a government or benefits check, you can also have it deposited directly onto prepaid cards for no fee.
There is one other important benefit to these cards–online bill pay. The top prepaid cards can be used to pay bills online. Just like a bank account, you can have funds transferred from a prepaid credit card to pay car loans, the mortgage, utilities, or just about any other monthly expense. Because of this, a no fee prepaid credit card is about as close to a bank account as you can get, without getting a bank account.
Here are some other benefits of no fee prepaid cards:
- Guaranteed Approval: Unlike a bank or traditional credit card, prepaid cards won’t check Chexsystems or your FICO credit score before approving your application. Approval is guaranteed.
- No Credit Check: Because prepaid cards do not extend credit, there is no credit check run when you apply.
- No Bounced Checks: Because the prepaid card acts as a debit card, there is no risk of overdrawing your account. With no bounced checks, there is no risk of paying a bounced check fee.
- No Over Limit Fees: Credit cards charge a hefty fee when cardholders exceed their credit limit. With prepaid cards, you can only spend what you’ve added to the card, so there is no risk of exceeding a card limit.
- Free Direct Deposit: For the prepaid cards listed below, they all offer free direct deposit of paychecks, government checks, and other benefits checks. In fact, by using direct deposit, you can get the prepaid card for no fees at all.
- No Interest Charges: Since you’re not borrowing money on a prepaid card, you never pay interest. Prepaid cards keep you from spending more than you have.
- No Fees or Low Fees: For the cards listed below, they either charge no fees if you use direct deposit, or their fees are very low (and a lot lower than using check cashing stores).
- Online Bill Pay: This is a big advantage of prepaid cards. You can use your account to transfer payments to creditors or even other cardholders. It makes paying bills easy and safe, and reduces the risk you’ll miss a payment by mistake.
We will add additional free and low cost prepaid cards as they become available. And if you know of other prepaid card offers that you think should be added to the list, please leave a comment.
Editorial Disclosure: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise
endorsed by American Express.