Your guide to free prepaid debit cards

Wise
30.12.19
8 minute read

Prepaid debit cards allow customers to spend conveniently and safely, without needing to worry about going over budget. You’ll only ever be able to spend the money you’ve loaded onto your card, so there are no overdraft fees or interest charges to worry about.

This guide will look at some of the best free prepaid debit cards out there, covering key points including:

Free prepaid debit cards

Let’s start off with an admission. When it comes to prepaid cards - and in fact, any other financial service - ‘free’ is a relative term.

No credit or debit cards - prepaid or not - are ever really completely free. You’ll always find a selection of fees are applied for some services when using a card - but you’ll also find cards which waive charges if you meet certain criteria, which can make them good value depending on your regular usage.

In this guide we’ll look at some of the best available prepaid cards. In general this means there are no overdraft fees, you’ll be able to avoid monthly or annual card charges, and you’ll only face limited transaction costs for card use.


Before you decide which one is right for you, you’ll need to weigh up all the different possible charges and think about how you are likely to use the card.

For example, there are cards which don’t charge a monthly service fee - but if their transaction costs are high, they may actually work out more expensive than an alternative with a monthly service charge but low transaction costs. There are also some cards which waive charges if you top up a certain amount per month - if you know you’ll use the card regularly these may be a smart choice, but they could work out costly if you don’t intend to use the card often.

If you travel or often pay in a foreign currency, you may want to look into cards that don’t have a foreign transaction fee, for example.


Wise Mastercard with balances

Free mastercard with balances

Before we dive into prepaid debit cards in more detail, we’ll take a look at an alternative worth mentioning - the Wise debit Mastercard.

This debit card comes with a multi-currency account and can be used like a prepaid card. You won’t pay any fees to open or operate an account, and can simply top up when you need to - just like using prepaid.

Wise's free multi-currency card can be up to 4x cheaper when spending abroad, compared to banks and PayPal

Unlike most prepaid cards, the Wise balances can be used to hold over 40 different currencies, so you’ll be able to use your card for online shopping with foreign retailers, or as you travel, with no transaction fee to pay.

You can switch between currencies conveniently using the Wise app, and you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate every time. There’s just a transparent, low fee to pay.

Here’s a quick rundown of the features of the Wise debit Mastercard.

Card Features
Wise mastercard Wise Mastercard
  • No monthly or annual maintenance fee
  • Free withdrawals up to $250 per month
  • No foreign transaction fees. This means no extra costs when buying online in foreign currencies, and paying abroad when you travel will be cheaper too
  • Linked to the Wise borderless account, holds over 40 currencies
  • Award-winning app to manage balances
  • Works with ApplePay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay
  • Accepted around the world anywhere you see the Mastercard logo
  • Convert your money between currencies easily using the mid-market exchange rate
  • Get local account details to receive payments for free in major currencies including US, Australian and New Zealand dollars, euros and British pounds

Free prepaid cards

Here are a few of the best free prepaid debit cards out there for you to consider. It’s good to know that the fees, terms and charges may vary by state. Those set out here are the most common charging structures applied - check the details for your own location online.

As we mentioned in the intro, even a free prepaid card won’t be entirely free. Some charges are added for different services, so we have noted the key costs for you to consider, too. Make sure you read the small print before choosing the right prepaid card for your needs, so there are no nasty surprises.


It’s also worth noting that each card has different features and benefits which may suit some customers more than others. For example, some cards offer cash back or rewards for purchases. Others allow customers to have multiple cards linked to the same account - useful if you want to give a card to a family member or older child, for example. You’ll need to do a bit of research to find the right card for you - but there are so many options out there you’re sure to find one which suits your needs.


Here’s our roundup of some of the best options available.

Card Features
American Express Serve American Express Serve¹
  • Free to order your card online, and monthly fee is waived if you top up $500 per month
  • No credit check
  • Free to top up from a bank account or by direct debit - there is a fee for cash top up of up to $3.95
  • ATM withdrawals are free from MoneyPass ATMs - fees apply to other ATM networks
  • AmEx network cards aren’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard
  • Online bill payment services
  • 2.7% fee for purchases in foreign currencies
Card Features
Movo Prepaid Visa Card Movo Virtual Prepaid Visa Card ² ³
  • Create and use digital Visa cards after registration
  • Register for free online and get your card in 5 - 10 days ( you must contact customer support to receive a physical card )
  • No credit check required
  • Top up from your bank account, tax refund, PayPal or using a direct deposit
  • Free to use wherever you see the Visa logo, within the US
  • Use with Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay
  • $2 ATM fee when using an ATM outside the Visa Plus Alliance Network, plus international charges if you spend using your card in a foreign currency, or make ATM withdrawals while abroad
  • Inactivity fee if you don’t use your card for 90 days - $4.95 per month
Card Features
Starbucks Visa Prepaid Card Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card ⁴ ⁵
  • Visa network card, issued by Chase
  • Cards are free to open, and replacements are free if you choose standard shipping options
  • No monthly, annual or reload fees
  • No overdraft or credit fees, and your money is FDIC protected
  • Can not be used in an ATM for withdrawals
  • Cash reload is not possible - top up from a checking account or another debit card
  • Earn rewards you can spend in Starbucks
  • 3% foreign transaction charge added to international purchases
Card Features
American Express Bluebird Bluebird by American Express ⁶
  • Free to open an account, no monthly fee
  • Available to customers with poor credit history
  • Order a card online for free - there’s a $5 for cards purchased at retail locations
  • Add money for free online using a direct debit or debit card
  • Add money using a cash payment for free at Walmart - there may be a fee to add cash at a different location
  • Free ATM withdrawals at MoneyPass ATMs - a 2.50 fee elsewhere ( not including possible ATM operator fees )
  • No foreign exchange fee
  • No inactivity charge
Card Features
Walmart MoneyCard Prepaid Debit Card Walmart MoneyCard Cashback Prepaid Debit Card ⁷
  • Card issued on the Visa network, and widely accepted
  • No credit check required to get a card
  • Earn 1% - 3% cashback on purchases made with the card
  • No monthly fee if you top up at least $1,000 per month
  • Top up in cash for free at a Walmart store - there may be a charge if you top up in cash elsewhere
  • You may be able to get your pay or benefits earlier by having them paid to this account using direct deposit
Card Features
Fifth Third Acess 360 Prepaid Debit Card Fifth Third Access 360 Prepaid Debit Card⁸
  • Free to open an account
  • Monthly fee is waived if you have an existing Fifth Third account, or top up more than $500 a month
  • No cost to add, withdraw or transfer funds
  • Deposit cash at Fifth Third locations
  • Card is on the Mastercard network, which is widely accepted at home and abroad
  • Fee free ATM withdrawals from Fifth Third ATMs around the country
  • International fees and currency conversion charges for spending overseas and making ATM withdrawals while you travel

What is a prepaid debit card and how does it work?

So what exactly is a prepaid card used for, and who might benefit from getting one? Here are some pointers if you’re still not sure about whether or not you need a prepaid card of your own.

Who might use a prepaid card?

Prepaid cards are popular with many different types of customers. Because it’s not possible to overdraw on the account, they’re useful for people on fixed incomes or who are managing their budget tightly.

Prepaid cards are also frequently used by tourists, as they’re a good way to safely carry your foreign currency, and access it conveniently.


Prepaid cards don’t require a credit check, so they’re also a good choice for those with bad credit, households without a regular bank account, or younger customers who might not have the credit history to get a regular credit or debit card. Some card accounts let customers apply for extra cards, too. This might be useful for example, if you want to give your teenager a card for their allowance or emergency use, but don’t want to give them free access to your regular bank account.

What’s the advantage of prepaid over a regular bank card?

Prepaid cards are more convenient - and often safer - than carrying cash. But they also come with a few other benefits compared to other types of credit or debit card.

With a prepaid card you can only access the money you load in advance, so you can’t accidentally overspend. That means you won’t dip into your overdraft and find yourself paying bank fees you didn’t expect. You don’t spend on credit, so there are no interest charges or late fees either. However, you’ll still get many of the benefits of using a regular card, such as ATM withdrawals and simple day to day spending.

What’s the downside?

When you’re choosing a prepaid card, it’s important to look at the fees associated, as they can be on the high side compared to regular debit cards. You’ll also want to check how you can reload your card, and whether there are any costs involved to top up.

Take a look at the online options for managing your account, as not all cards have simple apps or access to the type of services you’ll see with mainstream mobile banking. You might also find some places which won’t accept prepaid cards, such as gas stations and hotels.


It’s also important to note that, although prepaid cards are great for people without good credit, they won’t help you to build a credit history or improve your credit score over time. They’re also not the ideal option for people who want to set aside money for savings - no interest is paid in most cases, so you could be better off with a regular savings account instead.

How do I use my prepaid card?

In many ways, using your prepaid card is very similar to using any other credit or debit card.

You’ll be able to buy a prepaid card online and have it sent to your home. You can also buy some cards through selected retailers, but there may be a fee for this service. Top up your card, and then use it to make cash withdrawals and online payments, and to pay for goods and services while you’re out and about.


You can often top up your account balance online, or by visiting a retail outlet to top up in cash. Once you’ve spent your balance your card will simply be declined if you try to use it, until you top it up again.

So there you have it - your complete guide to free prepaid debit cards. By doing some research into the card types available, and thinking in advance about how you might use your card, you’ll be able to find one which works for you. Don’t forget to look at the Wise debit Mastercard as a smart alternative which comes with many of the perks of prepaid - and a few more besides.


Sources:

  1. American Express Serve
  2. Movo Digital Cash
  3. Movo Digital Prepaid Visa Card - Cardholder Agreement
  4. Starbucks Rewards Visa Cards
  5. Chase Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card - Agreement and privacy notice
  6. Bluebird
  7. Walmart Moneycard
  8. Fifth Third Access 360 Prepaid Debit Card

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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