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Reviews

Amex Serve Cash Back vs. FREE Reloads: How these two premium Amex prepaid cards compare

With more than one American Express Serve Card to choose from, you can pick which prepaid card works best for your needs. Here's a breakdown of the Cash Back and FREE Reloads cards.

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Prepaid cards offer users the ability to stick to a specific budget and, therefore, more easily limit their spending. They can work well for people on a budget, but they can also be a good option for teaching kids about spending money.

Prepaid cards are often considered a safer option than cash because if you lose the card, many have security measures that protect your account against theft. Plus, for a small fee, you can usually replace the card without stress.

American Express offers more than one prepaid Serve card so users can chose the card that works best for them. The American Express Serve® Cash Back and the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads are the two monthly-fee options in Amex's prepaid card fleet (whereas the $6.95 fee for the basic Amex Serve card is waived when users direct deposit $500 or more during each monthly statement period.)

The two cards are similar, but the Cash Back offers rewards while the FREE Reloads card lets users in over 45,000 locations in the U.S. and Puerto Rico put money onto the card for free.

To help you find the card that works best for you, CNBC Select reviewed the two cards, taking into account fees, rewards and perks and how to add money. (Read more about our methodology below.)

American Express Serve Cards Review

American Express Serve® Cash Back

Information about the American Express Serve® Cash Back has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Card opening fee

    Up to $3.95 in stores, $0 online

  • Monthly fee

    $7.95; no fee for Texas, New York and Vermont residents

  • Maximum balance

    $100,000

  • Cash reload fee

    Up to $3.95

  • ATM withdrawal fee

    $0 in-network at MoneyPass® ATMs; otherwise $2.50 per withdrawal, plus ATM operator fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Rewards

    Unlimited 1% cash back on purchases

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

Terms apply.

American Express Serve® FREE Reloads

Information about the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Card opening fee

    Up to $3.95 in stores, $0 online

  • Monthly fee

    $6.95; no fee for Texas, New York and Vermont residents

  • Maximum balance

    $100,000

  • Cash reload fee

    $0 at over 45,000 retailers, including Walmart, CVS/pharmacy, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar and participating 7-ELEVEN locations

  • ATM withdrawal fee

    $0 in-network at MoneyPass® ATMs; otherwise $2.50 per withdrawal, plus ATM operator fee

  • Foreign transaction fee

    2.7%

  • Rewards

    N/A

  • Mobile check deposit

    Yes

Terms apply

American Express Serve Cards: Cash Back VS FREE Reload

American Express Serve Cash Back American Express Serve FREE Reload
Monthly Fee$7.95; No monthly fee for residents of Texas New York and Vermont$6.95; No monthly fee for residents of Texas New York and Vermont
Cash Reload feeUp to $3.95$0 at more than 45 000 locations nationwide
Card Opening Fee$3.95 in stores and $0 online$3.95 in stores and $0 online
Foreign Transaction Fee2.7% after conversion to USD2.7% after conversion to USD
ATM FeeMoneyPass ATMs: $0 All other ATMs: $2.50 per withdrawal plus ATM operator feesMoneyPass ATMs: $0 All other ATMs: $2.50 per withdrawal plus ATM operator fees
Maximum Balance$100 000 $100 000
RewardsUnlimited 1% cash back on purchasesN/A

How to add money to your card

Both cards offer free direct deposit of paychecks and/or government benefits, but the FREE Reloads adds the convenience of letting users reload their card for free at participating locations including CVS, Dollar General and more.

With both cards, you can access part of or all of your paycheck up to two days before payday when you enroll in direct deposit. Both cards also offer mobile check deposits.

Users can send money and receive money to other Serve users easily through the mobile app.

Rewards and perks

Through the website or the mobile app, you can use free bill pay to send money, or pay your bills by writing a check online and American Express will mail it for you.

The cash transfer option allows users to send anyone across the 50 states and Puerto Rico money to be picked up from participating Walmart locations. The daily transfer limit is $2,500 across all your Serve accounts. Fees are as follows:

  • $4.99 for each money transfer up to $50
  • $8.99 for each money transfer of $50.01-$1,000
  • $16.99 for each money transfer of $1,000.01-$2,500

Bottom line

Each of these cards has an edge: if you are looking for cash back rewards, the American Express Serve® Cash Back card is for you. But if you handle a lot of cash and want to make sure that you can easily reload your card without having to pay any fees then the American Express Serve® FREE Reloads card is better suited to your needs.

If you are looking to avoid paying a monthly fee, you should check out the Bluebird by American Express card, which allows you to open subaccounts and could be a good option for families.

If you are a regular Walmart shopper and are looking to bank on rewards higher than 1% cash back then the Walmart MoneyCard may be a better fit with 3% cash back on eligible Walmart.com and in-app Walmart purchases, 2% cash back at Walmart fuel stations, and 1% cash back at Walmart stores, up to $75 each year.

Our methodology

To determine the best prepaid cards on the market, CNBC Select analyzed and compared 11 cards that offer benefits to individuals and families who are looking for an alternative to credit cards and debit cards to manage their money.

When ranking the best prepaid cards, we focused on the following features:

  • Card opening fee of $5 or less, but even better if you can get the card online for free
  • Monthly fees under $10
  • Variety of ways to add money
  • Ease of use
  • Perks, like rewards and free family accounts
  • Mobile app

Keep in mind that while prepaid cards are an alternative to credit and debit, they won't help you build credit. In order to establish a credit history, you need to regularly use a credit card responsibly, paying your bills on time and in full every month. And if you want an easy way to deposit and withdraw money for daily transactions, consider opening a checking account with a linked debit card so you can avoid ATM charges.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the CNBC Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.