We evaluated 36 prepaid debit cards to find the best options. We considered fees, cardholder benefits, expert opinions, consumer ratings and card issuer reputation in our evaluations. The prepaid debit cards we ranked highest are Western Union Prepaid Mastercard, PayPal Prepaid Mastercard, Netspend Prepaid Visa Card and Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard.
This guide explains how prepaid debit cards work, fees prepaid credit cards charge, who might benefit most from using them and how to choose the best card for your circumstances. We’ll share detailed evaluations of our top prepaid debit card companies, and you’ll find helpful frequently asked questions about prepaid debit cards later in this guide.
- Understand how prepaid debit cards work
- Evaluate your financial needs before choosing a card
- Shop around for the ideal card
Tips for a Wise Buyer
According to Pew Research, as many as 23 million adults use prepaid debit cards to manage their finances. This demand led to countless prepaid debit cards flooding the market with varying fee structures and features. It can be hard for consumers to select the very best card for their needs and preferences, particularly if they’ve never used one of these cards before.
While the majority of prepaid debit cards share some standard features, they are not all created equal. Using the wrong card can mean paying higher fees than necessary and missing out on exclusive perks. The tips below will ensure that you select a card that’s right for your unique circumstances.
How Prepaid Debit Cards Work
Prepaid debit cards work much the same as standard debit cards. The main difference is the funding behind the card. A prepaid debit card does not require the consumer to have a checking or savings account tied to it. The card account stands alone, loaded in advance with the consumer’s money.
Consumers can use prepaid debit cards to pay bills or shop wherever the card type, such as Visa or Mastercard, is accepted. Use these cards for debit transactions requiring a PIN or credit transactions where you sign for the purchase. When the balance is running low, top off funds quickly via direct deposit from your employer, government benefits, tax refund, a mobile check deposit or other money transfer.
Why Use Prepaid Debit Cards?
Prepaid debit cards can provide an excellent way for consumers to manage money. For example, the cards help with budgeting since the customer can only spend the amount deposited to the card. Other advantages to prepaid credit cards are:
- Faster direct deposits. Employer pay and government benefits often deposit into these accounts up to two days quicker than a traditional bank account.
- Provides a financial account to those who don’t have a bank account.
- No credit check required, so even those with poor credit can have a prepaid debit card.
How to Choose a Prepaid Debit Card
Consumers should shop around before choosing a prepaid debit card. As you review your options, consider:
- Potential monthly usage such as the number of transactions, ATM transactions, money transfers, foreign transactions, etc.
- The card’s fees for monthly service, purchases, ATM use, foreign transactions, check deposits and any other costs.
- Card benefits like referral bonuses, cash back specials, discount deals and more.
Be sure you read all the fine print in the prepaid debit card agreement before signing up. You want to know what to expect in terms of fees, any benefit program rules and potential account limitations.
|Prepaid Credit Card Benefits and Features|
|Cashback programs||Get cash back deals based on spending patterns|
|On-the-go account management||Use the card’s mobile app for Android or Apple or text alerts to manage the account from anywhere|
|Mobile check deposit||Deposit checks using the mobile app to fund the card|
|Customizable design||Upload a photo to personalize the card|
How to Get Started with a Prepaid Debit Card
You can visit the card issuer’s website to request a prepaid debit card, which you receive in the mail for free. You can also purchase a card from a retailer, where the store sets the cost.
Pay close attention to cards sold at retailers as they may look like prepaid debit cards but are actually gift cards with a temporary and not ongoing account. Check the card for an expiration date to ensure you’re buying a true prepaid debit card.
Once you have the card, follow the instructions to activate it and confirm your identity. Then you can transfer funds to the account and use the card for purchases.
Our Search for the Best Prepaid Debit Cards
1. We compiled an extensive list of 36 prepaid debit cards
2. We then evaluated these cards based on our expert-guided buying criteria such as fees, potential perks, issuing company reputation and consumer reviews
3. Finally, we provided you with our list of the best prepaid debit cards for your consideration
Selecting the best prepaid debit card can be a daunting task — particularly if a consumer has never shopped for one before. To help you choose, we did thorough research on 36 different prepaid debit cards. We ultimately boiled that list down to the four best options, discussed below.
Prepaid Debit Card Reviews
After our evaluation, the following are our choices for the best prepaid debit cards: Western Union Netspend Prepaid Mastercard, PayPal Prepaid Mastercard, Netspend Visa Prepaid Card, Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard. Each of these cards stood out above and beyond the competition.
Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard Review
Great Features |
The Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard is our pick for having the best features because the card perks go well beyond the benefits listed in the table above. Consumers can take advantage of Brink’s free budgeting tools to track and set limits on spending. This prepaid debit card includes a prescription drug discount card to save money at the pharmacy. Cardholders can receive cash back when they use their card to top off their prepaid mobile phone account.
Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard customers have two choices for paying card-related fees. The monthly $9.95 plan or $5 per month with qualifying direct deposits. The pay-as-you-go plan has no monthly fee, but charges up to $2 per purchase.
Netspend Prepaid Visa Card Review
Great Customer Support |
The Netspend Prepaid Visa Card is one of our prepaid debit card top picks for having the best customer support. Consumers can contact the card issuer seven days a week. Customers can reach out via phone, email or U.S. mail with their questions, comments or concerns and receive timely guidance.
Visa lovers can opt for Netspend’s pay-as-you-go plan, where each purchase results in a $1.50 fee. Or, they can choose a monthly plan that regularly costs $9.95. Once a consumer’s account receives $500 or more in direct deposits in a given month, the cardholder is eligible for the reduced $5 monthly plan fee going forward.
Western Union Netspend Prepaid Mastercard Review
Great Money Transfer Card |
We named the Western Union Netspend Prepaid Mastercard the best money transfer card because customers receive transfers in for free. Cardholders can send money to others at Western Union facilities in more than 200 countries and territories (outgoing transfer fees vary).
This prepaid debit card offers all of the features in the table above plus a customer referral program where customers can earn $20 every time a family member or friend funds a new card with $40 or more. Western Union Netspend Prepaid Mastercard also features an optional savings account that pays up to 5% APY on balances up to $1,000. Overdrawal protection comes from a $10 purchase cushion, which is a courtesy loan given at the card issuer’s discretion.
Consumers can pay card fees as they go or opt for a monthly payment plan. Pay-as-you-go customers are charged up to $2 per transaction. The monthly plan is either $9.95 or $5 per month with $2.50 per withdrawal and a $5.95 inactivity fee.
PayPal Prepaid Mastercard Review
Great Shopping Experience |
The PayPal Prepaid Mastercard is our choice for providing the best shopping with a prepaid debit card because the low monthly $4.95 fee covers unlimited purchases. Also, cardholders can transfer money from their PayPal account to their prepaid debit card to make shopping in stores a snap.
Beyond the benefits listed in the table above, PayPal prepaid debit card customers can enjoy access to a high-yield savings account and earn 5% APY on balances of less than $1,000. PayPal pays $20 for every referral that opens a new prepaid debit card account, subject to referral program guidelines.
The PayPal Prepaid Mastercard features the lowest foreign transaction fee of the group at 2.5%. Customers never pay an inactivity fee, which is a cost all other prepaid debit cards in this guide impose.
Frequently Asked Questions About Prepaid Debit Cards
Are these prepaid debit cards available nationwide?
Our top prepaid debit cards are available in most states, but Vermont residents are ineligible to open an account. This is due to Vermont’s 2010 legislation requiring retailers to limit card swipes to purchases of $10 or more.
Do prepaid debit cards have fraud protection?
Prepaid debit cards don’t typically include fraud protection equal to what credit cards offer. However, as of April 1, 2019, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created a comprehensive consumer protections for prepaid cards. Be sure to understand the extent to which your card protects you from fraudulent use.
Do prepaid debit cards have a minimum or maximum balance requirements?
Since each prepaid debit card’s terms vary, you should review the card agreement terms to determine if there are any balance rules and restrictions.
Will a prepaid debit card help me build credit?
No, prepaid debit cards do not affect your credit. The card’s activity is not reported to the credit bureaus, so your credit history and score are unchanged.
Can I use a prepaid debit card while traveling?
Prepaid debit cards can be convenient for travel because they are less cumbersome to use than traveler’s checks and more widely accepted.
What should I do if my prepaid debit card gets lost or stolen?
You should report the loss or theft to the prepaid debit card issuer immediately so you’re not responsible for any fraudulent purchases.
Concluding Thoughts about Prepaid Debit Cards
Prepaid Debit Cards Can Help Consumers Manage Their Finances
Prepaid debit cards help consumers manage their finances without having to rely on a traditional bank account. A prepaid debit card can be the right solution for those who have poor credit or no bank account, struggle to stick to a budget or want to travel without traveler’s checks.
When choosing a prepaid debit card, consider your needs and carefully review card terms to find the right balance of benefits and fees. One of our four best prepaid debit card options is likely to fit your unique financial circumstances.
The Best Prepaid Debit Cards
|Prepaid Debit Cards||Best For|
|1||Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard||Great Features|
|2||Netspend Prepaid Visa Card||Great Customer Support|
|3||Western Union Netspend Prepaid Mastercard||Great Money Transfer Card|
|4||PayPal Prepaid Mastercard||Great Shopping Experience|