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Prepaid cards are an easy way to manage your spending since you preload a set amount of cash on the card before you use it. Parents, therefore, can benefit from prepaid cards because they can help them manage their kids spending money with a little less risk.
But sometimes the fees on prepaid cards outweigh the benefits. We reviewed nearly a dozen prepaid cards and found it wasn't exactly easy to narrow our list down to cards with monthly fees under $10.
The Bluebird® by American Express prepaid card is one option with no monthly fee and a $0 fee when you open your card online (or up to $5 in stores). This card is suitable for families, since users can open separate cards on the same account, called subaccounts, for their children ages 13 and up. There's also an easy-to-use mobile app to help parents manage the family's spending.
To make your search for best prepaid card easier, CNBC Select reviewed the Bluebird by American Express card and considered how to add money to your card plus its rewards, perks and fees. (Read more about our methodology below.)
Card opening fee
Up to $5 in stores, $0 online
Cash reload fee
$0 at Walmart, up to $3.95 at other retailers
ATM withdrawal fee
$0 in-network at MoneyPass® ATMs; otherwise $2.50 per withdrawal, plus ATM operator fee
Foreign transaction fee
Mobile check deposit
Reload cash onto your Bluebird card for free at Walmart, or pay a fee of up to $3.95 at retailers including CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Dollar General and participating 7-Eleven locations.
Users are able to send money to other Bluebird debit account holders at no cost online and through the app.
Mobile check deposits are available through the app as well. Cardholders can also set up direct deposits of their employer paychecks and potentially see faster access to funds than when normally depositing checks in the bank.
With the subaccounts feature, primary users can transfer money to up to four users on the same plan. (All deposits into subaccounts must go through the main account.)
There is a maximum balance of $100,000 for the Bluebird card.
Users are able to send money to anyone over age 18 using Bluebird2Walmart Money Transfer service, powered by Ria and available online or in the Bluebird app. The system generates a reference number that the recipient uses to pick up the cash at participating Walmarts in the U.S. and Puerto Rico (they don't need a Bluebird account).
The Bluebird card also comes with the ability to link up to four subaccounts and share money between family members easily.
Bluebird's easy-to-use mobile app sends notifications that alert you to your available balance (including low-balance alerts) and gives users the ability to freeze/unfreeze a lost or stolen card (Note that if you don't unfreeze or replace your card, it will automatically unfreeze after seven days.)
This card does not offer any rewards.
Bluebird does not charge any foreign transaction fees, monthly fees or inactivity fees. There is an up-to $5 fee when you open the card in stores (fees vary depending on the retailer), but there is no fee to open a card online.
There are no fees for withdrawing money from one of 30,000 MoneyPass® ATMs, but a $2.50 fee for using out-of-network ATMS (in addition to the ATM operator's fee).
If you send money using Bluebird2Walmart, fees range from $4 for transfers of up to $50 to $16 for transfers up to $2,500.
Prepaid cards are a reasonable option for parents who want to give their children a card to use without the worry of them racking up high balances on a credit card. No-monthly-fee options like Bluebird® by American Express are even better for families looking to stick to a budget.
However, if you're a big Walmart shopper and want to earn some rewards on the money you do spend, the Walmart MoneyCard is a great option. Users can take advantage of its cash-back program that earns them 3% cash back on purchases made at Walmart.com and in the Walmart app, 2% cash back at Walmart fuel stations and 1% cash back at Walmart stores, up to $75 each year.
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.