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A closer look at our top prepaid cards
Blue Netspend Visa Prepaid Card: Best for fast approval
- What we love about the Blue Netspend Visa Prepaid Card: Through Netspend Payback Rewards, you can earn cash back on select qualifying purchases, something rarely seen with easy-to-attain cards. The rewards program also gives cardholders personalized offers as an extra incentive.
- Who this card is good for: Someone with a less-than-stellar credit score who wants less room for doubt when applying for a new tool to spend conveniently.
- Alternatives: If your sole focus is building your credit, the unconventional Self — Credit Builder Account’s accessibility and opportunity to graduate to a valuable card make it a worthwhile choice for individuals just starting out.
Netspend Visa Prepaid Card: Best for no activation fee
- What we love about the Netspend Visa Prepaid Card: When you start your card account, you’ll get access to a high-yield savings account that offers 5 percent APY on the first $1,000 you save. Also, if you refer a friend and they load at least $40 onto the card, you’ll each receive a $20 bonus.
- Who this card is good for: Those looking for a guaranteed easy way to spend or someone who wants access to banking services without an activation fee to get started.
- Alternatives: If you’re a fan of this card’s savings account option, Brink’s Money Prepaid Mastercard offers a similar benefit along with the ability to earn some ongoing cash back rewards.
Read our Netspend Visa Prepaid Card review.
Pink Netspend Visa Prepaid Card: Best for no credit check
- What we love about the Pink Netspend Visa Prepaid Card: Although it’s a no-credit-check card, you can still take advantage of select cash back and personalized offers once you’ve opened your account.
- Who this card is good for: Someone who wants a convenient way to spend and save while avoiding a credit check.
- Alternatives: If earning cash back is one of your goals, consider checking out the Brink’s Money Prepaid Mastercard, which offers 1X points on signature purchase transactions, and additional points on select limited-time merchant offers.
Self — Credit Builder Account: Best for building credit
- What we love about the Self — Credit Builder Account: Separating itself from the other options here, this account will report your payment habits to the three major credit bureaus—a surefire way to boost your credit score if you practice good habits. Making on-time, sufficient payments with this option can do wonders for your future financial health.
- Who this card is good for: A beginner credit-user who wants to establish their credit through a unique, user-friendly account.
- Alternatives: If you’re seeking access to a physical card right away, the Blue Netspend Visa Prepaid Card is a solid choice that offers potential rewards, albeit one that carries a series of fees.
Read our Self — Credit Builder Account review.
Brink’s Money Prepaid Mastercard: Best for Payback Points
- What we love about the Brink’s Money Prepaid Mastercard: Thanks to Mastercard, you’ll get benefits to protect against fraud, including $0 liability for unauthorized purchases and a few others. Also this card is a cousin of the Netspend options, allowing you to utilize its reload network of 130,000+ locations.
- Who this card is good for: Someone who wants a prepaid option that brings points and discounts. With this card, you’ll get 1X points on select purchases and limited-time offers, as well as the opportunity to receive up to 50 percent discounts on prescriptions with participating major pharmacies.
- Alternatives: If earning rewards are not a main focus of yours, the Self — Credit Builder Account offers users strong credit-building features and a unique opportunity to graduate to a secured credit card after demonstrating good financial habits.
Read our Brink’s Money Prepaid Mastercard review.
What are prepaid cards?
Prepaid debit cards are similar to debit cards except prepaid cards are not connected to banking or checking accounts. Instead, funds are loaded onto the card, then reloaded when those funds run out. Think of them as a cross between gift cards and debit cards—they have a card number, CVV code and expiration date like debit and credit cards but no bank account associated with them.
How do prepaid cards work?
Similar to debit or checking accounts, prepaid cards allow users to spend up to the amount of money associated with the card. Prepaid card users load funds onto the cards—either online, in person at specific locations, by depositing checks or reloading with cash. Once the money is loaded onto the card, you can spend up to that amount at e-tailers, physical stores and to pay bills online before you have to deposit more money onto the card again.
Keep in mind that most prepaid cards have fees associated with them, such as:
- Reload fees
- Monthly fees
- ATM withdrawal fees
- Inactivity fees
- Transaction fees
Prepaid cards vs. debit cards
What are the differences between prepaid cards and debit cards? Well, prepaid cards and debit cards function similarly—you can only spend the amount of money associated with the card. Prepaid cards and debit cards look similar, and both have card numbers, CVV codes, expiration dates and are often made of plastic with a magnetic stripe on the back.
Where prepaid and debit cards differ is where those funds are stored. Debit cards are linked to a checking account with a bank and are often accompanied by routing and account numbers. Checking account customers add more money to their checking accounts via mobile deposit, direct deposit, ATM cash deposit or bank-to-bank transfers and then use that money with their debit cards. On the other hand, prepaid cards aren’t linked to a checking account and customers load and reload money on the card, much like they would with a gift card.
Pros and cons of prepaid cards
Make sure to read the fine print before you apply for a prepaid debit card. Some of these cards have activation fees and monthly maintenance charges, which can eat into your spending cash. Compare cards thoroughly and shop for the best prepaid card for you that has as little fees as possible.
- No credit check needed—People with low or no credit can establish responsible credit habits without taking a hit to their credit scores.
- Budgeting tool—Because you’re limited to spending your deposit amount, prepaid cards make it easier to stay with your budget and cut back on monthly spending.
- More fees than debit cards—Debit cards typically charge overdraft, monthly fees and sometimes ATM fees. On the other hand, prepaid cards can charge those fees on top of transaction fees, reload fees, inactivity fees and more.
- Can’t build credit—Prepaid card issuers don’t report to credit bureaus, so users won’t improve their credit scores over time with this type of card. Secured credit cards are a better option for people with no credit or low credit to increase their scores.
See related: Pros and cons of prepaid credit cards.
Although prepaid debit cards are often associated with younger shoppers, recent Bankrate data shows that the trend might be slowing. In January 2021, we found that 43 percent of 18- to 31-year-olds have at least one rewards credit card, a figure that was just 33 percent in 2016.
When to use a prepaid card
Prepaid debit cards let you use plastic when online shopping or at stores, without the need for a traditional checking account. It’s ideal to use a prepaid debit card in the following scenarios:
- You’re a parent who wants to give your teenager a card that isn’t linked to your personal checking or credit card account to make purchases online or in-person. With a monthly spending limit, prepaid cards can teach teenagers budgeting and responsible card use early in life before they open their own account.
- You’re cutting back on spending and need hard limits, which prepaid cards provide. You can reign in your spending every month by only using a prepaid card—once the money is spent, you can force yourself to wait until the new month to reload the card before swiping again.
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