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Great Prepaid Debit Cards: A Student’s Opinion

Reviewed by Candace Bowers
Managing Editor
Finances
Written by Annika World
Updated: July 10, 2024
15 min read
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Pathward®.

In today's fast-paced world, managing our finances efficiently is more important than ever. Prepaid debit cards offer a convenient and secure way to handle day-to-day expenses without the hassles of traditional banking. 

Many major banking companies offer prepaid debit cards with different benefits and restrictions to suit your unique needs and preferences. Ahead, we will explore great prepaid debit card options, along with frequently asked questions about prepaid cards and managing finances as college students and beyond.

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What Is a Prepaid Debit Card?

Simply put, a prepaid debit card is a card that is loaded with a specific amount of money, which can then be used for multiple purposes, similar to a regular debit card. The key difference is that prepaid cards are not directly linked to a checking account or other bank account.

It works by loading a specific amount onto the card, which can then be spent until the balance runs out. Once the card is empty, it can be reloaded with more funds as needed. This type of payment card allows users to make purchases, pay bills, and withdraw cash from ATMs.

Unlike credit cards, prepaid debit cards are not associated with lines of credit and monthly billing cycles. Prepaid cards do not impact credit scores because money is instantly deducted from the card balance during the transaction, rather than operating based off of a line of credit. Unlike a credit card, approval for a prepaid debit card is not dependent upon a credit check of your credit history.

benefits of using a prepaid debit card

Benefits of Using Prepaid Debit Cards

There are several benefits to using prepaid debit cards. Firstly, they provide a great way to control your spending. Since the card can generally only be used up to the amount loaded onto it, you won't have to worry about overspending or getting into debt. This feature is particularly useful for those who struggle with impulse buying or have difficulty managing their budget.

Secondly, prepaid debit cards can be a valuable tool for managing your finances and sticking to your budget. Many prepaid card providers offer online budgeting tools and mobile apps that allow you to track your spending and set financial goals. This level of visibility and control can help you stay on top of your finances and make better money management decisions.

Finally, prepaid debit cards offer a safer alternative to carrying cash. With zero-liability protection and the option to quickly freeze or cancel your card if it gets lost or stolen, you can have peace of mind knowing that your money is secure.

Potential Drawbacks of Prepaid Debit Cards

While there are many advantages to using prepaid debit cards, it's important to consider the potential drawbacks as well. One common concern is the fees associated with these cards. Some providers charge fees for card activation, monthly maintenance, ATM withdrawals, overdraft fees, and even balance inquiries. However, not all prepaid cards have the same fee structure, so it's essential to do your research and choose one with reasonable fees or fee-waiver options.

Another drawback is that prepaid debit cards do not help build credit history. Since they are not linked to a bank account or credit line, using a prepaid card won't have any impact on your credit score. If establishing a credit history or improving your score is a priority for you, a prepaid card may not be the best option.

Despite these potential drawbacks, prepaid debit cards continue to gain popularity due to their convenience and flexibility. They are particularly useful for individuals who may not have access to traditional banking services or prefer not to have a bank account. Additionally, prepaid cards can be a great tool for teaching financial responsibility to teenagers or young adults, as they provide a controlled way to manage money. Parents may also choose to set up a prepaid debit card for their children in order to conveniently disburse an allowance while their kids are in school or to monitor their spending.

It's important to carefully consider your financial needs and goals before deciding to use a prepaid debit card. Assess the fees, features, and benefits offered by different providers to ensure that you choose the card that aligns with your specific requirements. By understanding the ins and outs of prepaid debit cards, you can make an informed decision and take control of your financial journey.

prepaid cards

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Prepaid Debit Card

Now that we've covered the basics, let's explore the key factors you should consider when choosing a prepaid debit card. Choosing a prepaid debit card is an important decision that can greatly impact your financial transactions. It's essential to delve deeper into the details of these cards to make an informed choice that aligns with your needs and preferences.

Fees and Charges

As mentioned earlier, fees can vary significantly among different prepaid card providers. Be sure to compare the fee structures, including activation fees, monthly maintenance fees, ATM fees, and any other associated charges. Look for cards with low or no fees where possible.

Some prepaid debit cards may also have hidden fees that are not immediately apparent. It's crucial to read the fine print and understand all the potential charges to avoid any surprises down the line. Additionally, consider the value you are getting in return for the fees charged, such as access to budgeting tools or any savings incentives connected to your prepaid debit card.

Reload Options and Ease

Consider how easy it is to reload funds onto the card. Look for options like direct deposit, mobile check deposit, or the ability to transfer money from a linked bank account. Having convenient reload options ensures that you won't run out of funds when you need them most.

Some prepaid cards offer unique features like round-up savings, where your purchases are rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the spare change is automatically transferred to your card as savings. These innovative features can help you grow your savings effortlessly.

Card Security and Protection

When it comes to handling your hard-earned money, security is of utmost importance. Ensure that the prepaid card you choose offers robust security features such as chip technology, fraud protection, and the ability to freeze or cancel the card in case of loss or theft.

Some prepaid debit cards also provide additional security benefits, such as purchase protection, which safeguards your purchases against damage or theft for a certain period after the transaction. These added layers of protection can offer you peace of mind when using your prepaid card for everyday expenses or larger purchases.

Review of Prepaid Debit Cards

Now that we have a good understanding of the benefits and considerations, let's review prepaid debit cards available in the market today.

Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard

greenlight card

The Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard is a popular choice among families. This prepaid debit card is known for its financial literacy and safety tools, savings incentives, wide acceptance, and excellent customer service.

The Greenlight app associated with the Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard enables parents to reload the card using a variety of funding structures. The card can be reloaded through direct deposit, or allowance can be tied to the completion of chores. With convenient reload options and a user-friendly mobile app, managing finances has never been easier. This card also offers 1% cashback on select purchases that go directly to savings, giving you even more value for your money by helping you build up your savings accounts.

The Greenlight Prepaid Mastercard also offers tools for teens and students to research stocks and ETFs and build long-term wealth, which is a unique advantage setting it apart. Advanced security features protect your funds and personal information, giving you peace of mind when making transactions both online and in-store. The user-friendly interface and detailed transaction history make it easy to track your spending and budget effectively while using this prepaid card, helping you reach your financial goals faster.

For the most up-to-date and specific information, consult the Greenlight website.

Netspend Visa® Prepaid Card

netspend card

The Netspend Visa Prepaid Card stands out with advanced direct deposit options and fee-free withdrawals. You can get paid up to 2 days earlier with this prepaid debit card by enrolling in direct deposit. Unlike most prepaid debit cards, mobile check deposit is also available for this prepaid debit card. Visa prepaid cards are also accepted at most retail stores in America.

With its high level of security and commitment to customer satisfaction, Netspend is a solid choice. In addition to its impressive features, Netspend offers round-the-clock customer support to address any concerns or issues you may encounter. The Netspend mobile app allows you to set spending limits, receive real-time alerts, and even lock your card in case of loss or theft, giving you full control over your finances at all times. Moreover, this prepaid debit card offers a range of budgeting and saving tools, helping you stay on top of your financial goals.

In addition to the Netspend Visa Prepaid Card, Netspend also offers the Netspend Prepaid Mastercard. This reloadable prepaid debit card is a convenient choice for those who prefer Mastercard over Visa but still desire the benefits of the Netspend Visa Prepaid Card.

For the most current and detailed information, please refer to the NetSpend website.

Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard

akimbo card

The Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard is known for its safety features, including the ability to stop all transactions on your card by disabling or enabling your card instantly, and enrolling in text alerts for every transaction. With Akimbo, you can easily create up to five new cards for any reason, giving you a straightforward way to budget or distribute allowances.

This prepaid debit card offers free card replacement once a year and in the event of unauthorized use, along with 24/7 customer support, ensuring peace of mind wherever you are in the world. The Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard is associated with some fees, such as ATM withdrawal fees, PIN transaction fees, and reload fees, most of which can be waived by taking specific actions.

For the latest and most detailed information, please check the Akimbo website.

Commerce Bank mySpending Card

commerce card

The Commerce Bank mySpending Card is a convenient option for parents looking to distribute an allowance to their child or for students and young professionals looking for a new budgeting system. Thanks to high daily balance limits and generous spending limits, this is a great prepaid debit card. The Visa prepaid card can be used anywhere Visa is accepted, making it a great choice for those looking to use a prepaid card as a budgeting tool.

The prepaid card features security protections like Visa Zero Liability if the card is lost or stolen, as well as text alerts to track transactions. Unlike other prepaid cards, there is no monthly fee associated with this card.

You can reload this card by setting up direct deposit of your paycheck, government benefits, or other income sources. You can also make transfers to the prepaid debit card from a checking account, savings account, or Commerce bank account. There is a free ATM network of Commerce ATMs, which you can use for no additional fee.

For the most up-to-date and comprehensive information, please refer to the Commerce Bank website.

H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard

emerald card

The H&R Block Emerald Prepaid Mastercard allows you to get your tax refund and payroll directly deposited easily onto your prepaid card. The MyBlock mobile app allows you to easily manage all your debit card needs, while the Spruce financial planning app can help you watch your money closely with budget tracking, goal setting, and credit score insights.

There is no variable monthly fee associated with this prepaid card, though there are some fees associated with ATM use, reload fees, and expedited funding fees. The Mastercard can be used at most retail stores in the US, wherever Mastercard is accepted. Funds can be reloaded with direct deposit or with checks.

For the most current and comprehensive information, please visit the H&R Block website.

American Express Prepaid Debit

american express card

American Express offers a range of prepaid debit cards and gift card options. The American Express Serve is a type of American Express prepaid debit account offering free direct deposit, free online bill pay, plus tools to help manage your money and fraud protection. There is a monthly fee associated with this account, as well as cash reload fees, though there is no minimum balance required for this card.

The American Express Serve Free Reloads is another type of American Express prepaid debit account. This card offers all the benefits of the Serve American Express Prepaid Debit Account, plus free cash reloads at over 45,000 locations. You can shop online with your card at most retailers, where ever American Express cards are accepted. No credit check is required for this card, and it's free to register online. There is a monthly fee associated with this card as well.

The American Express Serve Cash Back is a type of American Express prepaid debit account. This prepaid card offers all the benefits of Serve, with 1% Cash Back added to your account for use at millions of locations in-store or online when you shop with this card. The card offers free direct deposit, free online bill pay, and fraud protection. There is a monthly fee associated with this account, along with fees to reload.

For the latest and most detailed information, please visit the American Express website.

Tips for Managing Finances with Prepaid Debit Cards

Now that you have a prepaid debit card and are ready to manage your finances efficiently, here are some tips to help you make the most out of your card.

Prepaid debit cards offer a convenient way to manage your finances without the risk of overspending or going into debt. Prepaid cards are a great tool for budgeting and controlling your expenses, especially if you are trying to stick to a specific financial plan or savings goal.

By loading a set amount of money onto the card, you can limit your spending to only the funds you have available on your prepaid card, helping you avoid impulse purchases and unnecessary debt.

Avoiding Unnecessary Fees

Keep an eye on the monthly fees associated with your prepaid card and follow best practices to avoid unnecessary charges. Sometimes, a card issuer will allow you to waive monthly fees by meeting specific requirements, such as maintaining a daily minimum balance or completing a certain number of transactions per month. Use in-network ATMs whenever possible to avoid ATM fees, and review your card's fee schedule to understand what actions might lead to additional charges.

Be aware of any hidden fees that may apply to your card, such as dormancy fees and inactivity fees, a variable monthly fee, other monthly service fees, or reload fees. By staying informed about the fee structure of your prepaid card, you can make informed decisions about how to use it most cost-effectively.

Maximizing Card Benefits

Explore and take advantage of any additional benefits or rewards offered by your prepaid card. Look for cashback offers, discounts from partner merchants, or any other perks that can help you save money or earn extra rewards.

Some prepaid cards also offer purchase protection or travel insurance benefits, providing an added layer of security and peace of mind when making transactions. Other prepaid debit cards offer special benefits specifically for students. By understanding all the benefits and features of your card, you can make the most of its offerings and enhance your overall financial management experience.

An Alternative Choice: The Bold Visa® Debit Card

bold debit card

The Bold Debit Card is a demand deposit account that supports students by offering rewards for purchases made with the debit card. Unlike a prepaid card, which requires you to load funds before use, this debit card allows you to connect a bank account to transfer funds and supports direct deposits and withdrawals. It allows students to earn points* and redeem them for student loan payments or cashback. Earn 1 Bold Point for every $2 spent across any category. Redeem 1,000 Bold Points for $10 cashback or for $15 towards your student loan payment.* 

Bold points earned anywhere on Bold.org are also eligible for redemption as cashback or towards your student loan payments, and there is no limit on the points you can earn with this card. If you are already active on Bold, this card is a great way to make use of your Bold points! 

The Bold Debit Card also offers no annual or hidden fees, foreign transaction fees, account closing fees, or credit limit fees. No credit check is required to apply for this debit card. When it comes to reloading the Bold Debit Card, you can easily set up direct deposit for your paycheck, so your paycheck funds are automatically loaded into the card.  

The Bold Debit Card comes with top-of-the-line security and anti-fraud features, as well as FDIC insurance on deposit accounts.** The FDIC insures deposits at FDIC-insured banks and savings associations up to $250,000 per depositor, per FDIC-insured bank, for each account ownership category.

Although FDIC insurance covers deposits in all types of accounts at FDIC-insured banks,  it does not cover non-deposit investment products, even those offered by FDIC-insured banks. For more information about coverage and limitations, see the FDIC website.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Prepaid Debit Cards

How do I budget with a prepaid card?

Your prepaid card provider might already offer budgeting tools and features on a website or mobile app. Take advantage of the budgeting tools and features offered by the prepaid card provider. Set spending limits for different categories, track your expenses, and regularly review your budget. If your card has monthly fees, make sure you plan for these expenses. Likewise, if your card has ATM withdrawal fees, prioritize using your physical card over taking out cash from ATMs. Make sure you allocate a certain amount of your monthly income to your savings account and stick to your savings plan.

Additionally, consider setting up automatic transfers to your prepaid card to ensure that you are consistently adding funds to cover your expenses. This can help you stay on track with your budgeting goals, stay ahead of monthly fees, and avoid any unexpected financial shortfalls while using your prepaid card.

What are good debit cards for students?

If you are interested in a debit card that is directly connected to your checking account rather than a prepaid card, then a traditional debit card might better suit your needs. A checking account with a traditional debit card might also be right for you if you plan to receive consistent direct deposits, such as if you work a job. If you decide that reloadable debit cards are not for you, you can explore some checking accounts available to students.

Be aware that it is common for banks to require a minimum balance for a traditional checking account. If you open a student checking account, this requirement and other types of account fees may be waived. Look for accounts with features that suit your existing or anticipated financial needs, such as a free ATM network if you use a lot of cash.

What other types of bank accounts should I know about?

While a traditional bank account does not allow you to earn much interest on your savings, a high-yield savings account is associated with a much higher-than-average interest rate. This is a good option for those looking to maximize their savings. These accounts are often paired with a spending checking account.

Opening a credit card requires a credit check, and you may not be approved for a credit card right away, depending on your credit score, as reported by major credit bureaus. Open credit lines sparingly and minimize your debt in order to improve your standing with credit bureaus. With appropriate research and planning, you can find a checking account or a combination of savings accounts and bank accounts that suit your particular needs.

Secured credit cards are designed for those who desire support in building their credit, such as people with lower-than-average credit scores. With a secured credit card, you are often required to pay a security deposit before you gain access to a credit line. If you can afford the deposit, a secured credit card can help you work your way up to a credit card with more features.

At Bold.org, we are committed to helping students eliminate student debt. Check out our Scholarship Blog for more information and learn how to apply for scholarships today!

No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with Bold.org, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article.

Bold.org Visa® Debit Card is a demand deposit account provided by Pathward®, N.A., Member FDIC. Bold.org Visa Debit Card is issued by Pathward, N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. Card can be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Visa is a registered trademark of Visa U.S.A. Inc. All other trademarks and service marks belong to their respective owners. Register your Card for FDIC insurance eligibility and other protections.

*This product or service is independent of Pathward® and Visa and is neither endorsed nor sponsored by Pathward® or Visa.

**Funds are FDIC insured, subject to applicable limitations and restrictions, once Pathward receives the funds deposited to your account.

†The features associated with the Bold Debit Card discussed in this blog post are provided by Bold.org and are not affiliated with our Bank partners, Pathward®, or Visa.

Annika World

About Annika

Annika is a talented and versatile writer and researcher. She has extensive expertise in researching and applying for scholarships and grants, as well as the process of navigating financial aid. 

As a senior at NYU, Annika is pursuing an interdisciplinary degree at the intersection of film, psychology, philosophy, writing, and visual arts, with a minor in film production. During her time at NYU, she completed a number of interdisciplinary research projects and is currently working on her thesis film.

Experience

Through Annika’s coursework, she has engaged in a number of writing workshops and intensive seminars, honing her writing craft under the guidance of acclaimed authors and poets. Within the entertainment industry, she has fulfilled a range of diverse roles, working in film and TV development, production and distribution, sustainability consulting, and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. She also has experience working in educational services, tutoring, and libraries.

Since joining the Bold.org team in 2023 as a Content Writer, Annika has utilized her extensive background as a scholarship recipient to guide others through the complexities of financial aid, scholarships, and grants. Her expertise also extends to securing internships in the creative arts and entertainment fields.

Motivated by a desire to make a meaningful impact, Annika's work at Bold.org is driven by her passion for assisting fellow students and combatting the student debt crisis. Through her compelling writing and advocacy for educational and financial empowerment, Annika is dedicated to uncovering funding opportunities and providing students with the resources they need.

Annika is no longer with the Bold.org Writing Team, but we continue to value and appreciate her contributions.

Quote from Annika

“Knowledge is power.”

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