Personal Finance

American Express Serve Prepaid Card Review

at American Express National Bank, Member FDIC

The American Express Serve prepaid debit card offers helpful features without hidden fees. There are three different versions of the Serve prepaid debit card: the basic Serve (reviewed here), Serve Free Reloads and Serve Cash Back.

With a low, avoidable monthly fee, the basic Serve card will likely be the top choice of the three for most people. If you’re looking for an alternative to a bank account, this card offers many of the same services and features.

Best for:

  • People who want a traditional banking alternative that allows mobile deposits, direct deposits and ATM access.

  • People who want to set aside savings in a reserve account.

  • Families who want to help kids learn how to save and budget with “subaccounts” linked to the card.

Pros:

  • A feature that lets you set money aside for future goals.

  • A large ATM network that allows free withdrawals.

  • Low fees compared to other prepaid debit cards.

  • Free funding reloads for direct deposits, mobile check deposits and online bank transfers.

Cons:

  • There is a fee of up to $3.95 to load cash on the card at retailer locations (fee varies by retailer).

  • There is a $1 monthly fee (waived with $500 monthly direct deposit).

  • Out-of-network ATM fee of $2.50.

Overview of prepaid debit cards

What is a prepaid debit card?

A prepaid debit card is a type of payment card that only lets you spend the money you load onto the card. They don’t help you build credit. Like a debit card, a prepaid card works at any merchant that accepts its payment network, such as Visa, Mastercard or American Express. It’s safer and more convenient than using cash. Usually the prepaid card has a mobile app to deposit checks and transfer money. Learn more on our guide to prepaid debit cards.

Unlike checking accounts, prepaid debit cards may lack some services such as free ATM or branch networks, checks, among others. If that doesn’t work for you, see our list of best checking accounts. Or, if you’ve struggled with banks before, check out second chance checking options.

Prepaid debit card vs. debit card vs. credit card

  • Prepaid debit cards — pay before: You load money onto the card via cash, checks, direct deposit or a bank account before paying for transactions.

  • Debit cards — pay now: You use money directly from a checking account when paying for purchases or withdrawing money from an ATM.

  • Credit cards — pay later: You borrow money from a bank when you use the card and pay the money back later.

How does FDIC insurance on prepaid cards work?

Prepaid debit cards nearly always have FDIC insurance, which keeps your funds protected in case the issuer goes bankrupt. Only financial institutions can have FDIC insurance, so a prepaid card is either managed by a bank or by a prepaid card company that partners with a bank to offer that insurance. You must register your prepaid debit card with your name and other identification information in order to be eligible for FDIC insurance and other protections.

This article originally appeared on NerdWallet