There was a time when prepaid debit cards were seen as, well, somewhat sleazy. They were often accused of using predatory marketing practices, charging outrageous fees and targeting poor and working-class people who didn’t have the financial flexibility to get a real credit card or a bank account.
The industry has changed a bit since those days. There are enough legitimate, fair and useful prepaid cards on the market now that there’s really no reason to buy a prepaid card from a brand that is known to treat its customers unfairly. There are some regulations affecting the industry, but generally speaking, this is a field where the free market has generated a better outcome, forcing the fly-by-night hucksters to rethink their business approach if they want to keep attracting buyers. In recent years, prepaid cards have proven popular not as an item for the desperate and the broke, but for anyone who needs fast cash on plastic.
There are a lot of scenarios where you might find yourself needing
a prepaid card, for instance:
- You’re waiting for a replacement card from your bank or Paypal or whoever you might manage your money with. This happens a lot. Cards get lost in the mail or you forget to request a new card just before yours expires. You can transfer money from your account onto a prepaid card without worry.
- You’re shopping with a questionable source. You don’t always want to give your info out to just anyone. Most identity theft involves actually stealing the plastic card itself and using that to make purchases in someone else’s name. But there are still stories, usually a few a year, about databases being hacked and credit card numbers being stolen via the internet by cybercriminals. If you’re not one hundred percent comfortable with giving your details out when signing up for a new service or buying through an eShop that you’ve never used before, a prepaid debit card offers a sort of buffer to keep your money safe no matter what.
- Savings and special deals. A lot of cards offer discounts and bonuses if you shop at certain places. You might find a prepaid card that gets you free drinks at Racetrack gas stations, for example. Since the prepaid card game has become a little more competitive, companies are doing everything they can to bring you over to their side of the line. Some of the early prepaid card companies relied almost exclusively on desperation as their main marketing gimmick. That’s not the case anymore, you have to try a little harder to win customers in this industry now.
So, you’re not just buying into Amex Serve because you need a prepaid card. You have a lot of brands to choose from nowadays.
Why choose Amex over another company?
They must have something to set them apart from the competition, right?
You can’t sell a prepaid card just because it’s a prepaid card anymore, you have to bring something extra to the table. Luckily, Amex Serve does just that. Here’s what you need to know:
A prepaid card has to be accessible and convenient, or what’s the point?
We already have wallets full of debit and credit cards that are a pain in the neck to use, right? So this is one of the most important things. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to use this as your base when selecting a prepaid card. All the other stuff is great, but if it’s not convenient, if it’s not accessible if it’s not easy to use, then you’re better off taking it off the maybe list.
So how do we rate accessibility and convenience when evaluating a prepaid debit card? What’re the criteria that set an easy, accessible card apart from the rest?
Two things take precedence here:
- How easy is it to put money on the card? If it’s a whole big process that involves sending money through a website and waiting two to three weeks for it to register on your card, then what’s the point? Likewise, you don’t want to bother with cards that you have to throw away once they’ve been emptied. If the problem is that you don’t have any cash on hand, then how are you going to buy another card when this one runs out? Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to put money on your prepaid debit card with Amex Serve. You can have direct deposit payments sent directly to the card, and you can load your card with cash at more than forty-five thousand locations, covering CVS, Dollar General, Rite Aid, Walmart, 7-Eleven, and Family Dollar. You can also purchase a “Reloadit” to put more cash on your card whenever you like, and you can transfer money to your card quickly from any bank account or by attaching a debit card to your prepaid card.
- How easy is it to spend money on your card? A card that only works at certain stores is kind of like a gift certificate. So does the Amex Serve card make it easy to spend your money as you see fit? For the most part, yes. You might run into stores that don’t accept Amex Serve, but almost anyone who accepts American Express will also accept Serve. There’s also no charge for paying bills on time. If you plan on restocking your card on a regular basis, it might not be a bad idea to use the card to set up automatic bill payments. Otherwise, you should go on a month by month basis, since you don’t want to wind up getting angry calls from the electric company because you’re not using the card they’re trying to charge anymore. Also worth noting: You can make free ATM withdrawals at over twenty-four thousand locations.
The bottom line here is that Amex Serve is one of the more accessible, convenient prepaid cards on the market right now. You can restock your card with cash from just about anywhere, and you can use the card as easily as you can most debit and credit cards.
Which Amex Serve Card To Get?
If you’re thinking of picking up an Amex Serve, there are three levels of service for the card. Each one is really suited for a different kind of user. Here’s what you need to know:
- American Express Serve. This is the basic card, a no-frills, get-it-done option. Here’s what you get with the basic Serve card: Free early direct deposit, free online payments for bills, and free ATM withdrawals at the 24,000+ locations available. If you just need a prepaid debit card, this one will do just fine. It doesn’t come with any extra features like other cards offered by American Express through their Serve service, but it will get the job done and is more than you need for most tasks involving transferring money to and from your prepaid debit card. The basic card does require a one dollar monthly fee, outside of Texas, New York, and Vermont, though this is waived if you direct deposit five hundred dollars or more. This makes it the cheapest card to hold onto for basic upkeep in this regard. Cash reloads can cost up to three ninety-five, depending on the retailer. ATM withdrawals, outside of the MoneyPass ATM’s, will run you two fifty a transaction, plus any ATM operator fees.
- American Express Serve FREE Reloads. Just as the name suggests, the American Express Serve FREE Reloads card gets you everything you get with the basic card, but you also get free reloads at more than forty-five thousand locations. There is a monthly fee of four ninety-five, and cash reloads are free at all 45,000+ locations. A good choice if you reload frequently.
- American Express Serve Cash Back. Everything you get with American Express Serve, plus one percent cash back shopping online or in person. There is a five ninety-five monthly fee, and it’s three ninety-five for reloads depending on retailer,
With all three Amex Serve cards,
this is what you get:
- The cards themselves are zero dollars online, and up to three ninety-five at retailers.
- Direct deposit, adding money from a bank account, online bill payments, MoneyPass ATM withdrawals, subaccounts, card replacements and customer service are all one hundred percent free.
- There is a charge, up to nine forty-nine, for withdrawing from Cash Pickup Powered by Ria.
- Ria transfers can run you up to sixteen ninety-nine for a cash transfer of up to two thousand five hundred dollars.
Note: Different fees may apply if your employer or company has enrolled you in Serve. In some cases, these fees may be a little more expensive, and in others, they may be cheaper.
Is Amex Serve The Right Card For You?
Our advice: Before going with American Express Serve, check out some similar cards to see what suits your needs best. If you’re a frequent traveler, for instance, you might want to look at a card that offers discounts and deals at gas stations and airports. If you mainly use your card to pay online bills, look into cards that make that easier to do. Amex Serve has a lot of strengths, but it might come up short where you need your card to perform. This is the thing about the prepaid debit card industry right now: There are a lot of different kinds of customers out there and they all want something different from their card. Amex Serve is absolutely perfect for some, but for others, it might come up lacking.
So the thing to do is to look at all the cards available to you, ask around on forums, on Reddit, ask people on social media what cards they would recommend for someone in your position, at your income level, with your lifestyle, and see what people say. There are a lot of cards out there and they all serve a different demographic, a different marketplace.
Long gone are the days when prepaid card sellers could get by on jus assuming that customers were desperate enough to sign any terms of service without even reading it. You can’t market cards on desperation anymore, you have to offer something that they’re not getting from anyone else. American Express meets that bar with their Serve series of cards, but all the same, what they’re offering might not be what you’re after. Go ahead and put Serve on your maybe list, but do yourself a favor and take the time to shop around and find the card that suits your needs the best. We can only guess at why you’re looking into prepaid debit cards. If you want direct advice, there are plenty of people out there who can answer your questions, so ask around, and then shop around.