The American Express Serve card offers a low fee prepaid debit card with all the benefits Amex has to offer. A prepaid card with a roadside assistance hotline and purchase protection? Yep. Here’s our detailed review.
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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 Walmart 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 two different types: the original Serve and Serve Cash Back. First, we'll talk about the features these options share, and then we'll talk about what sets them apart.
Main Amex Serve Features
All versions of the Serve card come with the following features:
- Free Early Direct Deposit
- Free Online Bill Pay
- Free ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 MoneyPass® ATMs
That last feature is critical. ATM fees can cost a small fortune if you need access to cash on a regular basis. With the Amex Serve card, you have plenty of free ATMs.
Now let's look at some features that many prepaid cards don't offer.
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. You could even use this feature to help budget your money.
With Serve, you can pay anyone with free online bill pay. You can even 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.
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.
Money added to your card is held by American Express in one or more FDIC-insured banks.
Adding Money to Serve
Serve offers several ways to add money to the card. There is, of course, direct deposit. You can have your employment check or government benefits check deposited directly to the card.
There are several other ways to add cash to the card.
- Transfer Money: You can transfer money from a bank account or another Amex Serve card for free.
- Cash Reloads: You can load cash on the card from many retail stores, such as CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Rite Aid, Walmart and 7-Eleven.
American Express Benefits
Serve prepaid cardholders enjoys many of the benefits offered by American Express credit and charge cards.
- Purchase Protection: When you buy with the Serve card, this Amex benefit can protect you against accidental damage or theft for up to 90 days.
- Fraud Protection: Amex protects you against fraudulent transactions if your card is lost or stolen.
- 24/7 Customer Service: Get help with your account whenever you need it.
- Amex Offers: Get offers and access to sporting and entertainment events. You can also explore a range of shopping and dining offers.
- Travel Protection: Amex offers a roadside assistance hotline you can call for help.
The American Express Serve card offers a low fee prepaid debit card with all the benefits Amex has to offer. A prepaid card with a roadside assistance hotline and purchase protection? Yep. Here's our detailed review.
Pros and Cons
Amex Level Services
Cash Back Potential
No Credit Check Required
Doesn't Improve Credit
Two Versions of the Serve Card
There are two primary versions of the card. One offers cash back on purchases, while the other does not. With the cash back version, however, the fees are slightly higher.
Here are the details.
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 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 cards (pun intended), 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.
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.