Greenlight Debit Card review: Kickstarting kids’ financial journeys
This kid-centric debit card makes up for its cost with robust money management tools and opportunities to earn rewards via smart spending and saving
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Instead of letting your child loose with a run-of-the-mill debit card, you may want to consider a prepaid debit card specifically designed to help kids save money, develop financial literacy and build responsible spending habits.
The Greenlight Debit Card is easily one of your best options thanks to an impressive feature set that helps you not only monitor spending, but also teach your child about money through budgeting, saving, earning rewards and even investing. There’s no minimum age to apply for the card, it’s accepted almost everywhere and you can choose from three Greenlight plan tiers based on your budget and your child’s needs.
That said, since you won’t be able to avoid fees with the Greenlight card, you’ll have to decide whether the card’s features are worth the cost. Plus, debit cards like Greenlight won’t help your child build credit history and may not be helpful for teaching them about credit cards or the risks of credit card debt. As such, you may want to consider a credit card for your child in place of or in combination with the Greenlight card.
What are the pros and cons?
- The $4.99 to $9.98 monthly plan fees can be more expensive than similar prepaid debit Mastercards for kids
- Many of the card’s best perks and rewards to help offset the cost are locked behind the Greenlight Max tier
- Money transfers, spending controls and investment actions are tied to the primary accountholder, which may make it difficult for multiple parents or guardians to manage the app without a joint account
- Unlike some competitors, requires frequently managing a mobile app in addition to the physical debit card
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: 1 percent monthly Savings Boost rewards, or, with the Greenlight Max Plan, 2 percent monthly Savings Boost rewards and 1 percent cash back on purchases
- Monthly fee: $4.99, $7.98 or $9.98 (based on plan)
- Initial deposit: N/A
- Early direct deposit? Direct deposit supported, but not early deposit
- Out of network ATM withdrawal fee: No issuer ATM fee (operator ATM fees may still apply)
- Overdraft fee: N/A
- Additional savings account included? No, but there is a monthly compounded 1 percent to 2 percent rewards rate on the first $5,000 in a savings account, depending on the plan.
No matter which monthly plan you choose, the Greenlight card should offer solid perks that can help kids save money and build responsible financial habits.
All Greenlight cardholders earn at least 1 percent on their average daily savings balance and get access to unique money management features and basic protections like FDIC insurance and zero fraud liability. But for a little extra, you can also unlock additional rewards opportunities and features, including the card’s cash back program.
The base Greenlight plan, available for $4.99 per month, will get the job done if you’re satisfied with a 1 percent Savings Boost, money management tools and education, but it may be worth opting for the Greenlight + Invest level (available for $7.98 per month) if you’re interested in additional features that help kids learn about investing and make it easy for parents to invest for their child’s future.
The third tier, Greenlight Max, may offer the best value. You’ll enjoy all the perks of the base and Greenlight + Invest tiers, plus an extra 1 percent Savings Boost (for a total of 2 percent earnings), as well as unlimited 1 percent cash back on purchases and exclusive perks like dedicated customer service and future limited-time offers on top of the rewards.
Here’s a quick look at some of the key benefits that come with the Greenlight card, depending on your plan:
Parental controls and money management options
The Greenlight program is made of three components that both the parent or guardian (the primary accountholder) and the child (sub-accountholder) can use: the sub-accountholder’s debit card, the sub-accountholder’s Greenlight mobile app and the primary accountholder’s mobile app. Kids can use the physical or digital version of the debit card to make purchases, while parents can use the app to:
- Monitor and approve each purchase as it happens
- Set general spending limits and limits on specific store or category purchases
- Create chore lists and one-time tasks for kids tied to an allowance
- Reload the card balance
- Set up direct deposits to teens’ cards if they work part-time
- Freeze and unfreeze each debit card
These features help kids get hands-on experience with budgeting and earning money while giving parents visibility and control over where and how much they spend. According to Greenlight’s research, the top transaction categories for kids and teens are grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, online gaming and ATMs, so you can even set spending limits for each of these individual areas.
While many of these features are similar to those you’ll find on other kid-centric debit cards programs, Greenlight offers more in-depth customization options than most.
The Greenlight card can also help kids learn the power of responsible saving decisions. You can set up “Savings Goals” toward big expenses like college or a car, or short-term purchases like games. Meanwhile, the “Round Up” feature can help pitch in by taking the leftover change from each purchase and putting it toward these plans or your child’s general savings.
You can take things a step further and teach kids the value of compounded interest with its “Parent-Paid Interest” rate you set yourself that accrues using the primary accountholder’s funds. You can set this rate at anywhere from 1 to 100 percent, allowing savings to grow at a much faster pace than you’d get with the typical APY and demonstrating how money can grow when you save.
As with similar kid-centric debit cards, Greenlight offers a gift option that allows people outside your family accounts to load cash onto the card. Friends and family can send a gift of $25, $50, $75 or $100 via text or email, which can be redeemed easily through the app. Gift-givers can even designate how kids can use their funds—anywhere, at a select store or only toward their Greenlight Savings account.
Greenlight + Invest
A unique feature among debit cards for kids, the Greenlight + Invest monthly plan will unlock educational modules and parent-approved stock and ETF trading opportunities for your family.
Since it’s tailored for learning about the investing space, it’s built to be easily accessible. You can set your risk tolerance, establish your investment timeline and buy most U.S. market stocks with no trading fees to worry about. You can even buy into fractional stocks with as little as $1.
All the while, you’ll stay entirely in control since your child can’t make trades without your permission and the brokerage accounts are in your name as the primary accountholder. You decide how money is invested and how any gains are used.
The investment platform available with the mid-tier monthly plan is one of Greenlight’s most unique and compelling features and isn’t offered by competitors like Famzoo and Gohenry.
Exclusive Greenlight Max protections
Along with an extra 1 percent Savings Boost and unlimited 1 percent cash back on purchases, the Greenlight Max tier gets you several valuable perks that can easily make the extra cost worth it. Not only are these features—including purchase protection, cellphone protection and account monitoring—usually reserved for credit cards, but they can also come in especially handy for kids and teens.
The Greenlight card’s cellphone protection covers eligible damage, theft and breakdowns up to $600 per claim across up to two claims (or $1,000 in total reimbursement) each calendar year per card on your account. This is already a relatively rare and prized perk among credit cards, but the Greenlight plan stands out with the inclusion of breakdown damage over time and the fact that you don’t have to pay your cellphone bill with the card to be covered. Unfortunately, however, New York residents aren’t eligible.
Eligible purchases are also covered against damage or theft for up to $100 per item (up to $1,000 per year) for 120 days (90 days for New York residents) from the date of purchase or delivery if it was paid in full with the card and damaged or stolen. This purchase protection even covers popular consumables like beauty products, fuel, food and medications.
Greenlight Max also comes with robust account monitoring tools. While primary cardholders get a run-of-the-mill credit monitoring service through Experian, children get an extensive Child Monitoring Service that scours the web and dark web for their personal information, including their Social Security number, email address, phone number, banking account details, medical ID number and more. If your child’s information is compromised, you’ll even get a dedicated agent under the full-service identity restoration service to help you with next steps.
Considering this level of service usually requires additional subscriptions, the Greenlight Max plan could be a great resource to have in your corner if your child is still learning to be safe online.
Depending on your Greenlight card tier, you can get unexpected value from its unique Savings Boost feature, flat-rate cash back or both.
All cardholders earn at least a 1 percent Savings Boost reward each month based on their average daily savings account balance (on balances of up to $5,000). That’s an impressive rate of return considering the current average APY is 0.60 percent.
Greenlight Max members fare even better, earning double the Savings Boost (2 percent) and unlimited 1 percent cash back on all purchases. Taken together, that’s much better than most cash back debit cards can offer.
While you may not earn enough via cash back or Savings Boost to completely offset your monthly Greenlight plan fees, they can still help young cardholders see how their savings can grow through responsible use.
How you earn
Without Greenlight Max, the only way to earn rewards from the issuer is through the 1 percent per annum Savings Boost that’s awarded monthly based on the child’s General Savings and Savings Goals balances. Subscribing to Greenlight Max doubles the Savings Boost to 2 percent, but every tier only earns these rewards on an up to $5,000 average daily savings account balance per family (with a maximum of five cards on your plan).
Savings Boost works by multiplying your child’s average daily savings account balance by the rewards rate and dividing the result by 12 to determine the monthly reward. For example, a $1,500 balance with the basic monthly plan would earn $1.25. This would then be added to the savings balance and apply toward the following month’s potential reward. This is essentially an issuer-funded increase to the child’s APY that makes compound interest more noticeable, encouraging smart saving.
Greenlight Max members also earn unlimited 1 percent cash back on all eligible spending, which gives young cardholders an excellent opportunity to practice earning rewards before they get a full-fledged rewards credit card. Only some debit cards earn rewards—let alone unlimited, flat-rate cash back. For example, the Discover Cashback Debit account, a popular cash back debit card, only earns 1 percent cash back on your first $3,000 in purchases each month.
How to redeem
All Savings Boost and cash back earnings are automatically added to your child’s savings and counts toward their next month’s Savings Boosts reward. This makes it easy for kids to save, with no need to worry about which redemption options will offer the most value.
How much are the rewards worth?
The Greenlight card’s Savings Boost feature and the Max tier’s cash back program can offer solid value depending on how much you spend and save. And while these earnings may not be enough to offset the card’s ongoing cost, they can make a big difference.
With the help of Bankrate’s Compound Savings Calculator, we estimate the maximum Savings Boost rewards potential at $101 per year with the Greenlight Max plan (assuming you meet the $5,000 family balance cap in one account). That’s just shy of the approximately $120 annual cost of the Green Max plan ($9.98 per month). Meanwhile, we estimate the base plan will net $50 in earnings per year, also short of the card’s approximately $60 annual cost ($4.99 per month).
Keep in mind, however, that this assumes your child has $5,000 saved in their Greenlight account, which may be a stretch considering the median bank account balance for people under 35 is $3,240.
Depending on your child’s allowance or other purchasing power, the Greenlight Max plan’s flat-rate cash back program may not yield as much value. According to the Piper Sandler investment banking company’s annual research surveys, teenagers reportedly spend an average of $2,150 per year, which would net just $21.50 in cash back per year with Greenlight Max. That’s better than nothing, to be sure, but won’t make much of a dent in the plan’s cost.
Combining the Greenlight Max plan’s 2 percent Savings Boost and 1 percent cash back, typical cardholders can expect to earn a total of about $86.50 in rewards each year (based on an average spend of $2,150 per year and the median $3,240 savings account balance). This increases to about $122.50 per year if your child has the maximum eligible savings balance of $5,000—just enough to cover the cost of the plan.
Rates and fees
One unavoidable downside to the Greenlight card is its ongoing cost: $4.99 per month for the basic plan, $7.98 per month for Greenlight + Invest and $9.98 per month for Greenlight Max. Since you may not be able offset these costs via Savings Boost or cash back, you’ll need to decide whether each plan’s features are worth it.
Outside of these monthly fees, however, the Greenlight card carries hardly any mandatory fees. Unlike many prepaid cards, the Greenlight card charges no fee for adding funds to the card and no issuer fees for ATM transactions at home or abroad (though you may still be subject to standard ATM operator fees). There’s also no fee the first time you need to replace your card ($3.50 per card after that).
There are limits to how much money you can keep on the Greenlight card, but the main caps to consider are the maximum account balances ($15,000 for the Primary Account/parent and $7,500 for the Sub-Account/child), daily spend limits ($1,500 across all accounts), and monthly spend limits ($7,500 across all accounts).
How does the Greenlight debit card compare to cash back credit cards?
Along with their ongoing cost, one of the biggest drawbacks to kid-centric debit cards like Greenlight is that they don’t teach your child about credit or help them build it. Since a solid credit score and responsible credit habits are key to their future financial well-being, it may be worth adding your child as an authorized user or—if they’re 18 or older—encouraging them to apply for a low-cost credit card either instead of or along with the Greenlight card.
Adding your child as an authorized user to the Citi® Double Cash Card could be a great way to help them build credit and learn about rewards while you earn generous flat-rate cash back on all purchases. Even better, you’ll only earn 2 percent cash back when you pay off your purchases (you earn 1 percent when you buy and the other 1 percent when you pay off those purchases), which encourages responsible use.
If your child is 18 or older, opting for a secured card like the Discover it® Secured Credit Card in their own name is also a solid credit-building pairing with the Greenlight card. All Discover cards pose minimal costs, including no annual fee, foreign transactions fees, penalty APR or fee on your first late payment (up to $41 after that). It doesn’t require an established credit score to apply, and since its credit limit is set by your security deposit of $200 to $2,500, you won’t have to worry about card spending getting out of control.
It’s also one of only a handful of secured cards that earns cash back: You’ll enjoy 2 percent cash back at gas stations and restaurants (on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter, then 1 percent on all other spending) as well as Discover’s first-year cash back match offer. This essentially doubles all the cash back earned in the first year.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Greenlight Debit card worth it?
If you’re looking for a simple way to help your child learn responsible saving and spending habits, the Greenlight Debit card is easily one of the best kid-centric debit cards on the market. Though you can’t avoid fees, the card comes with a ton of unique tools like customizable chore lists, automated allowances and real-time spending notifications, and the level of money management control you get is more granular than what rival cards offer.
While Greenlight’s Savings Boost makes the basic $4.99 monthly plan a bit more valuable than many competitor offerings, the $9.98 Greenlight Max plan’s flat-rate cash back, higher Savings Boost and other perks should give you the best bang for your buck.