Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review – Good Option for the UnBanked

Whether you consider yourself “unbanked” or “self-banked”, the Netspend® Visa® is a great prepaid credit card for anyone without a bank account.

Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card

Kevin Mercadante's rating
Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card
Fees 7.5
Ease of Use 9.8
Customer Service 9.0
Specialized Options 8.0


  • No credit check
  • No minimum balance
  • No activation fee
  • Three fee plans
  • Access to a Netspend Savings Account


  • Transaction fees
  • Not for credit building
  • Limited money transfer capabilities

Table of Contents

If you don’t have a bank account or a traditional credit card, you may find yourself at a disadvantage in making purchases and accessing cash. But you can solve that problem by using a prepaid debit card. Netspend is one of the leaders in issuing prepaid debit cards, including both Visa and MasterCard. Either will enable you to make purchases wherever those cards are accepted, as well as to pay bills and access cash through ATM machines.

About the Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card

Netspend is one of the leading providers of Visa Prepaid Debit Cards, MasterCard Prepaid Debit Cards, and prepaid card solutions in general. The company claims it serves 68 million consumers. Most of those consumers are considered unbanked, which means they do not have a traditional bank account, and must rely on alternative financial services.

Related: Why are Millennials Using Prepaid Credit Cards?

Prepaid cards give the unbanked the ability to transact business in much the same way as those who have traditional bank accounts, as well as credit and debit cards. As such, the company’s mission is:

”We empower consumers and businesses with the convenience, security, and freedom to be self-banked.”

Netspend was founded in 1999, and is based in Austin, Texas. It’s a subsidiary of TSYS (NYSE: TSS), a company that provides electronic payment processing services to banks and other financial institutions, and did nearly $5 billion in sales in 2017.

Netspend serves its customers through a nationwide network of more than 70,000 distribution locations, and 130,000 reload points. Customers can purchase and reload their prepaid cards at neighborhood retailers, check cashing services, convenience stores, grocers, pharmacies, insurance providers, and tax preparers.

On the business side, the company is also a major provider of commercial payroll card solutions. They enable employers to offer a direct deposit option that reduces the expenses that come with issuing paper checks.

How the Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Works

Learn More

Some of the major advantages for consumers are that Netspend prepaid cards require no credit check, no activation fee, and no minimum balances. You can also have your payroll and government benefit checks direct deposited onto the card, which will enable you to be paid two days faster than if you are paid by a paper check.

The prepaid card can be used anywhere Visa or MasterCard are accepted, which is pretty close to everywhere. You can also use it to pay bills online, or even to withdraw cash from ATMs. In short, the card gives you virtually all the benefits of a traditional credit or debit card.

The card works through the Netspend Online Account Center. It enables you to manage your card account entirely online. There, you can see recent transactions, activate Payback Rewards (see below), or set up direct deposit.

Netspend gives you a choice of three different fee plans. One has no monthly fee, but charges a small fee for each transaction. The other two have a monthly fee, but there is no charge for individual transactions. You can choose the plan that works best for you (See the “Netspend® Visa® Pricing” section below).

Funding your card account

Once you open your card account, it can be funded with either direct deposit, or by mobile check load. Similar to mobile bank deposits, you can deposit funds into your card account simply by taking pictures of the front and back of the check and downloading them on the app. You can also add money to your card at any one of more than 130,000 reload locations across the US.

You can also have your tax refund direct deposited onto your card account. All you need to do is provide your account routing number and personal account number to your tax preparer, and include the information on page 2 of Form 1040, the way you would for any other direct deposit arrangement for a tax refund.

Netspend Premier

If you upgrade to this card, you can save almost 50% on the monthly fees, while also getting the benefit of the highest level of service the company offers. Netspend Premier also allows you to personalize your card with a favorite photo, at no extra charge (personalization is $4.95 if you are not a Premier member).

You can qualify by enrolling in direct deposit, with either government benefits or payroll checks, with at least $500 deposited in one calendar month.

Netspend Premier Card comes with the Purchase Cushion feature. On the Premier Card only, Netspend may cover you for up to $10 if you’re short on a purchase. When they do, you make up the shortfall the next time you reload your card.

Netspend® Visa® Features and Benefits

Payback Rewards

Netspend will offer Payback Rewards for certain purchases and merchants, on a revolving basis. They are updated regularly, so the offers will change. As you earn rewards, they are credited to your card account at the end of the following month.

Anytime Alerts

Netspend will issue text and email messages keeping you informed as to what’s happening with your account. The alerts can let you know when a paycheck is available, when you hit a spending limit, or when you’re near a reload location.

You can even customize the types of alerts you want to receive, as well as the frequency. For example, you can choose to receive alerts on individual transactions, deposits, declined transactions, or budget notifications. Alerts can be sent daily or weekly.

Netspend Broad support

Receive alerts about your account

Netspend Savings Account

You can open a savings account by transferring money from your Netspend card to a Netspend Savings Account. You can even make transfers between your card account and the savings account, up to six times per calendar month. You can fund the savings account through the AutoSave feature that automatically transfers an amount you choose to the savings account, each time you load funds on your card.

Even better, you can earn interest of up to 5.00% annual percentage yield (APY), so your savings will grow.

Refer a Friend

When you refer a friend, and that person activates a new prepaid card and loads it with at least $40, both you and the friend get a $20 credit. Once the friend or family member has a card, you can send money back and forth using instant card holder transfers. There is no limit on the number of friends or family members you can refer.

Netspend Mobile App

The app is available for Android and iOS mobile devices, and can be downloaded at either the the App Store or Google Play. You can deposit checks using the mobile deposit feature on the app.

The app will allow you to check your balance and recent transactions, as well as send and receive funds to and from family and friends. You can do this with family and friends who also have a Netspend card, or with ACE Elite, Control, or Purpose cards.

Customer Support

Support is available by email, traditional mail, or by phone. Customer service is available Monday through Friday, from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM (all times Central).


Funds held on the card are FDIC insured through the card’s issuing bank. You’re also protected from unauthorized charges through either the Visa Zero Liability or MasterCard Zero Liability protection programs. With either program, you must notify Netspend immediately when you have an unauthorized charge.

You can also get additional protection on your card, by personalizing it with a family photo or a unique image. In addition, you can use virtual card numbers to keep your number secret. You can do this by creating a temporary card number for online transactions.

Related: Should You Use a Masked Credit Card for Online Shopping?

Netspend also uses secure socket layer (SSL) technology to encrypt your personal information to keep it secure when it’s being transmitted over the Internet.

Netspend for Business

Netspend also offers its services to self-employed professionals and small business owners. They do this by offering their prepaid cards so that business owners can keep their business expenses separate from their personal ones.

One of their major business services is their payroll program. Their Skylight PayOptions Program helps small businesses make payroll paperless, and gives employees a convenient way to receive their paychecks. The payroll cards are also available in both Visa and MasterCard. The company claims employers can save between $2.87 and $3.15 per payroll transaction by using direct deposit, instead of paper checks.

Employees are able to save time and hassle by having their pay directly downloaded onto a prepaid card. It means they don’t have to concern themselves with cashing checks at the bank or through check cashing services.

They also offer their SmartOne Prepaid Cards for customizable incentive and disbursement campaigns for both employees and customers. For example, the cards can be used to distribute bonuses, or provide money for benefits and special events for employees.

For customers, a small business can also create custom cards, which will increase acquisition rates and reward long term customer loyalty.

If you have a small business, Netspend is well worth investigating for the many benefits they provide this often underserved business segment.

How to Sign Up for the Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card

Netspend uses a three-step sign up process:

  1. Order your card
  2. Activate and verify your ID
  3. Add money to your card

The order process is very simple. You complete a one-page online application:

Netspend sign up

Simple online application

Once again, no credit check is performed, and there is no minimum balance required on your card.

In keeping with federal law, you will be required to provide your date of birth as well as your government ID number (typically your Social Security number). You may also be required to provide a copy of your state issued driver’s license.

Once you sign up for your Netspend card, you will receive it in the mail within seven to 10 business days.

At any time after you sign up you can access your account through the Netspend® Visa® login page.

Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Pricing

Netspend offers three different plans, Pay-As-You-Go, FeeAdvantage, and Netspend Premier FeeAdvantage. The basic fee structures are as follows:

Plan/FeePlan FeeSignature Purchase FeePIN Purchase Transaction FeeForeign Transaction Surcharge
Pay-As-You-GoNo fee$1 each$2 each3.5% of US dollar amount of the purchase transaction, in addition to the normal purchase fee (Signature or PIN)
FeeAdvantage$9.95 per monthIncluded in planIncluded in plan3.5% of US dollar amount of the purchase transaction
Netspend Premier FeeAdvantage$5.00 per monthIncluded in planIncluded in plan3.5% of US dollar amount of the purchase transaction

There are no fees charged by Netspend when adding funds to your card, whether that’s for direct deposit, a funds transfer from a bank account, or mobile check loads. However, there may be fees assessed by reload locations.

Cash withdrawal fees are as follows:

Netspend cash withdrawal

Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card Pros and Cons


  • No credit check: So it’s easy to get but as we’ll mention in the cons section, it doesn’t give you the ability to improve your credit.
  • No minimum balance: This is a great feature so you don’t have to worry about getting charged for not maintaining a certain balance.
  • No activation fee: Another great plus. The less fees, the better for you.
  • Three fee plans: You can choose whichever will work best for you.
  • Access to a Netspend Savings Account: Paying interest up to 5.00% APY.
  • Customer service: Available seven days a week, which is more than most banks.
  • Cashback rewards: These are available on a rotating basis.
  • Direct deposit options: You can fund your card with government benefit checks, including your income tax refund.


  • Transaction fees: A fee applies to many transactions you’ll make.
  • Not for credit building: Prepaid cards cannot be used to build or improve your credit score. This is true of all prepaid cards, and not just those issued by Netspend.
  • Limited money transfer capabilities: You can transfer money to and from family and friends, but only if they have a Netspend card, or select other cards. Unlike most money transfer services, you can’t send or receive money to or from anyone with a bank account.


Question: How do I set up direct payroll deposit to a Netspend card?

Answer: Basically, the same way you would if you were setting up direct deposit into a bank account. You’ll need to provide the employer with the bank routing number, as well as your card account number. Both are available through Netspend.

For direct deposit of government checks, you’ll have to check the website of the agency issuing the monthly benefit payment for specific instructions.

Question: Can I fund my Netspend card using bank transfers?

Answer: You can from virtually any U.S. bank account. You’ll have to log into your Netspend account to get specific transfer instructions.

Question: Do Netspend cards have any spending limits?

Answer: Yes. You’re limited to not more than $4,999.99 every 24 hours for either purchase transactions, or over-the-counter cash withdrawals. For ATM cash withdrawals, the limit is $325 per withdrawal, or up to $940 per day, for up to six transactions per 24 hours.

Question: What are the terms of the interest paid on Netspend Savings?

Answer: The Netspend website doesn’t give too much detail on the savings account particulars. But a search of the web indicates they do pay 5% APY on the first $1,000 in your account. Balances in excess of $1,000 earn 0.5%. That’s a lot better than what most brick-and-mortar banks pay.

Should You Sign Up with Netspend® Visa® Prepaid Card

Netspend® Visa® and MasterCard Prepaid Cards are an excellent choice for anyone who does not have a traditional bank relationship. A prepaid card can give you most of the benefits of traditional credit and debit cards, including paying for purchases in-store and online, paying bills, and transferring funds to family and friends.

The two major disadvantages are the fees involved in having a prepaid card, as well as the fact that it will not enable you to build or improve your credit score. But if you don’t have a relationship with traditional financial institutions, those may not be major concerns for you.

A Netspend card can also be an excellent option if you’re looking to carefully limit your spending, through the discipline that prepaid cards require. There’s virtually no chance you can exceed your spending limit, or incur a late charge.

It could also be a good strategy if you need to make a purchase from an online source that you don’t entirely trust. Since you can make a purchase using a temporary account number, the online vendor will not be able to steal your identity. As well, the maximum loss would be the amount of money you have in the account. Unlike a debit or credit card, an unscrupulous online vendor won’t be able to clean out your bank account or run up your credit limit.

If you’d like more information, or if you’d like to sign up for a prepaid card, check out Netspend® Visa®.

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