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Get your tax refund in about two weeks with direct deposit to a prepaid or debit card. Here's how it works and a list of prepaid and debit cards you can use.

Are you expecting a tax refund this year? If so, you may already be thinking about how you’ll receive your money (and how quickly).

Being able to receive a tax refund in the form of a direct deposit is great news for some. You just sit back and get your refund added to your checking account in about two weeks.

This is much better than waiting the six to eight weeks it takes for a paper check refund to arrive. Plus, you avoid the hassle of schlepping to your local bank to deposit the check, the cost of using a check-cashing service (if you don’t have a bank), or the worry of the check not making it to your mailbox safely.

For those who do not have a checking account, however, the benefits of direct deposit are elusive. According to the FDIC, about 33.5 million households in the U.S. are underbanked or unbanked. This is no small issue.

To make matters worse, those without bank accounts often turn to tax refund anticipation loans. These short-term loans come with extremely high interest rates, and are really no better than a payday loan. While they do give you access to your refund immediately, the fees can eat into a substantial portion of it.

Fortunately, there is an extremely low-cost alternative for those who don’t have the option of direct deposit and don’t want to wait for a check. You can have the IRS deposit your tax refund on a prepaid credit card.

How to Set Up Direct Deposit

Setting up direct deposit of a tax refund to a prepaid or debit card is simple. It’s really no different than setting up direct deposit of a paycheck to a checking account.

You’ll need two pieces of information: (1) the routing number associated with the prepaid or debit card; and (2) the account number. The key here is that the routing number and account number are not on the prepaid or debit card itself. The number on the card is not the same as the account number.

While this may seem confusing, most prepaid or debit card issuers can help. To get the routing number and account number, contact the company that issued the prepaid or debit card you’ve decided to use. Some even have online tools that can generate the routing number and account number for you. With most of the cards mentioned below, check out the tax links provided to learn more.

Our Favorite Debit Card That Offers Direct Deposit on Tax Refunds

Apply Now

Here’s a short video from Green Dot. The video walks through how to set up direct deposit for your tax refund. While produced by Green Dot, the steps outlined in the video apply to most debit cards.

UNLIMITED by Green Dot is currently an excellent option to have your tax refunded deposited on.  You’ll earn 2% cash back on online and mobile purchases (at Amazon, Uber, Walmart.com and more) AND earn 2% APY on savings, up to $10,000 (may change anytime).

  • Visit GreenDot.com for terms and conditions.

Prepaid Cards that Offer Direct Deposit of Tax Refunds

Here are a few of the top prepaid cards that offer direct deposit of tax refunds. Some of them make it easier than others to set up a government direct deposit, and a few of the cards even offer online guides specifically for tax returns.

Netspend

Learn More

Netspend is a popular reloadable prepaid card for those wanting to manage their money. It offers a mobile app to track your finances. You can also deposit checks with the app.

They also help walk you through the process for depositing your tax refund. Once you have the card, you can log into your account online. From there, Netspend provides the account and routing numbers you’ll need for direct deposit of your refund.

There are three different monthly plans to choose from, based on your spending habits and needs. The monthly fee ranges from free to $9.95, and transaction fees are either free or $1 each. ATMs are $2.50 for domestic withdrawals and $0.50 for balance inquiries.

Here’s a quick summary:

  • Initial cost: first card is free, unless you want a custom card ($4.95 each)
  • Monthly fees: $0 (Pay-As-You-Go), $5 (FeeAdvantage™), or $9.95 (Premier)
  • Transaction fees: $1 (Visa) or $2 (PIN) each with PAYG plan; transactions are free with FeeAdvantage™ and Premier
  • Direct deposit fees: None
  • ATM fees: $2.50 per withdrawal, $0.50 per balance inquiry
  • Add money to your account: Free with direct deposit; third party fees vary at retail locations
  • Supports tax refund direct deposit? Yes
  • Mobile app? Yes
  • Customer service? No fee to email or call a customer service agent with general questions or to manage your account through the app. If you choose to have an agent facilitate a transfer, check your balance, etc., fees apply.

Tax Refund Prepaid Cards

If you don’t have a prepaid card, but want to take advantage of direct deposit, it’s easy to get a card. In fact, applying is easier than getting a credit card or bank account because there are no credit checks or ChexSystems inquiries. In fact, so long as your identification information checks out (like your social security number), approval of prepaid cards is guaranteed.

In contrast to the cards here, you should be very skeptical of prepaid cards offered by tax preparers. The problem with these cards is that they often come with extremely high fees. For example, H&R Block offers the Emerald Prepaid MasterCard, but there have been complaints about the high expenses associated with the card. The key is that whatever you decide, make sure to read the fine print and understand what fees you’ll have to pay.

One final note: if you have a large refund due to you–and you want to avoid making such a large interest-free loan to Uncle Sam–talk to your employer about changing your W-4 form. You may be entitled to claim more allowances, which would reduce the amount of money withheld from your taxes.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1118
Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Article comments

8 comments
Lisa Gardner says:

Another card to consider is Platinum Pay offered by TFG. Different from Mango and Green Dot, this card is for payroll direct deposit (and can of course be used for tax refunds). Low fees and a Welcome Call to every new cardholder.

These seem to be good alternatives for many people who are without bank accounts right now. I especially like the direct deposit to a card idea. It makes your money accessible without having to worry about figuring out how to cash the check.

GetDebit says:

One other alternative for many people to consider is to use a local (not for profit) tax preparation center. Most of these centers do tax returns for free (or low cost) for lower income people. Plus, many have relationships with prepaid card issuers where the tax refunds can be direct deposited onto a prepaid card for lower than average fees.

Susanne says:

I used a debit card payment. Filed Jan 30, 2015. Sent me 3 cards which I cut up and threw away. I thought it must be a scam. So I never activated them. I went through Taxact, no problems. Except the IRS let me know immediately that my files were refused ; I had already filed before Taxact. Now I can’t find the company I first used. I can’t get in touch with the IRS.

Have I lost my return??? I would remember the name of the first co. if I heard it.

Susanne says:

i JUST DID! WHAT ELSE DID YOU WANT TO KNOW???

Ruby says:

Hi. Can I use my chime card for my deposit?

Cat says:

I purchased a PayPal prepaid MasterCard from Walgreens and used the account & routing numbers for my refund to be direct deposited on to it. Will this work or will I be stuck waiting on then check in the mail? I am pretty sure my card is a Netspend card…

Greg Owen says:

What this article failed to tell you is that if you get a tax refund by direct deposit over $10,000, these companies will reject it and the IRS will automatically issue a paper check for the entire amount. I found this out the hard way! I was wondering why my money did not appear on my card so I called the paycheck plus card people and I was told that an attempt was made to deposit the refund but did not post to my account. They said call the IRS. I called the IRS and they told me it was the banks fault. Needless to say I was extremely pissed at this point. The IRS said a paper check had already been issued because of the rejection by paycheck plus. I was told it would an additional 4 weeks to get it. So I called paycheck plus and got another run around from them so I asked for a supervisor. Finally they their was a limit on how much can be put on the card, $10,000. If I had known that I NEVER would have used them. I cussed out the supervisor needless to say and then hung up on him. But that’s not the only time I got screwed by them. I had used my card to pay for a car rental as well as a flight from Omaha to New York with my 5 year old son. Upon arriving at Laquardia Airport in Long Island, I went to go pick up the car from Alamo. Keep in mind the money was already removed from the card from Orbitz. They wanted to see my card for verification. That’s when everything went to shit. I was told Alamo would not accept my card because it was “PREPAID”. Here I am at midnight with my 5 year old son and stuck in New York with no way to get to my destination and hour away. Called paycheck plus and cussed them out again. I did find out that I would have to take a series of buses, subways and trains to get to my destination 4 hours later that included literally going through Harlem in NYC, an extremely dangerous area at this time of the night with my son no less, my laptop and luggage. I was beyond pissed with paycheck plus at this point. Never again will I deal with this shithole company ever. You have been warned everyone. Beware!