It’s now been several years since I began covering the prepaid market. Over those years, there have been major changes to prepaid debit cards.
First fees began to come down, to the point that many prepaid cards are free. Then some major companies entered the market, such as Wal-mart and Chase. Then American Express took it to the next level with a card called Serve.
Think of Serve as a prepaid account, not just a card. It now comes in three different types: the original Serve, the Serve FREE Reloads version, and Serve Cash Back. First, we’ll talk about the features these options share, and then we’ll talk about what sets them apart.
- Your Full Service Prepaid Debit Card (American Express Serve is not a credit card.)
- No credit check. No minimum balance. No hidden fees.
- FREE Direct Deposit gets you access to your money up to 2 days faster.
- FREE ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 ATMs nationwide.
- FREE Online Bill Pay and money management tools.
- Enjoy American Express service and security 24/7. Shop online and off and enjoy Card Membership benefits like Purchase Protection*.
- *Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Subject to additional terms, conditions and exclusions.
Subaccounts are an easy way to give allowance to your kids or even pay the babysitter. Each person with a subaccount gets his or her own Serve card. You can then transfer money to these cards and set a spending limit.
Cash Pickup by Ria
You can now get up to $900 worth of cash at once from a Walmart.
With Serve, you can pay anyone with free online bill pay and the ability to write a check online. American Express will take care of sending a check to anyone you need to pay. You can also use this feature to pay individuals, if you need to do so.
Free ATM Withdrawals
You can use your Serve card to withdraw cash for free at 24,000 MoneyPass ATM locations around the nation. You can use other ATMs, but you’ll pay a fee for the privilege.
Three Options to Try
Each of these three options offers slightly different benefits and drawbacks. Here, we’ll go over the features of each of the options. Don’t worry, we’ll summarize it all in a handy table at the end of the article.
Original American Express Serve
The thing that once made this card wonderful–its lack of monthly fees–is still there. You won’t pay anything to sign up for the card online. And the monthly fee is $1, but it’s waived if you direct deposit $500 or more per month onto the card. Direct deposit and adding money from most bank accounts is free, as is making withdrawals at qualified MoneyPass ATMs.
Unfortunately, it does cost money to do a cash reload on this card–up to $3.95 per transaction. But you can do most other transactions, including adding subaccounts, for free.
American Express Serve FREE Reloads
This card could be a better option if you’ll typically reload the card with cash, and will do that several times per month. Again, it doesn’t cost anything to apply for the card online. But this one comes with a $4.95 monthly fee.
However, you won’t pay anything to reload the card with cash at 45,000 locations nationwide, including CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Rite Aid, and Walmart. Other services, including direct deposit, adding money from a bank account, and qualified ATM withdrawals are also free.
You’ll save money with this card if you need to reload your prepaid card with cash more than once per month. Otherwise, the original Serve is the better option.
American Express Serve Cash Back
Once again, this card is free to open online. But it costs $5.95 in monthly fees, except in Texas, New York, and Vermont. And cash reloads cost up to $3.95, depending on where you load the card. You can see how the fees on this one could add up quickly.
So why pay the money? Because you’ll get unlimited 1% cash back on all your purchases.
So let’s say you pay the monthly fee and only use direct deposit, so you aren’t paying fees for cash reloads. If you spend at least $595 per month on the card, you’ll earn back the fee. Spend more than that, and you’ve got extra cash in your pocket.
Of course, if you’re spending this amount of money on a prepaid card, it may be time to consider moving to a traditional bank account and a cash back credit card. But if for some reason that’s not in the card, the American Express Serve Cash Back could be a good option. Just be sure you use it enough to outearn the fees you’ll pay.
Confused about the differences between these cards? Here’s a quick summary, straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth:
All in all, if you need to use a prepaid card–or if you want to use one for your kids–this is a pretty good option. The low-fee original card is a good place to start. But be sure to look at how you plan to use and reload the card. Then look for the one that will get you the lowest possible fees.