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NetSpend Prepaid Card: A Good Bank Account Alternative?

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netspend credit card

For the millions of Americans who don’t have a bank account, basic financial tasks like depositing checks or paying bills can be difficult. Even if you have a bank account, you may want a better method for staying on a strict budget or providing funds to family members. If this describes you, a prepaid card, which acts like a secured credit card, could be the solution.

NetSpend provides prepaid cards to an estimated 68 million consumers. If you need to manage your finances without being tethered to a bank account, you may be considering a NetSpend prepaid card for your wallet. Read on to learn about NetSpend’s features and the cost of card ownership to determine if the card is right for you. (Note: Be sure to read the card agreement for full details.)

Who’s the NetSpend Prepaid Card for?

NetSpend’s prepaid cards are primarily intended for people who don’t have traditional bank accounts and are easily accessible to people with poor or nonexistent credit. The cards provide many of the basic financial functions that traditionally come with bank accounts.

How it Works

NetSpend Prepaid Card Review

Signing up for a NetSpend prepaid card is simple, as there is no credit check required and activating the card is free. The card is provided through Visa.

You can load the card via check, direct deposit or cash. Checks can be deposited via mobile app while both checks and cash can be loaded in person at one of NetSpend’s 130,000 physical Reload Locations.

Once funds are loaded, you can use it like a bank account debit card, shopping anywhere that accepts Visa. You can also pay bills online or withdraw cash from ATMs. NetSpend customers have online account access, text alerts and mobile phone refills.

NetSpend even provides PayBack Rewards, which help you earn cash back on some of your purchases (NetSpend regularly updates participating stores and offers).

Finally, you can open a savings account with up to a 5% Annual Percentage Yield (APY) to earn interest on money you set aside. Transferring funds between your savings account and your prepaid card is simple.

There’s also a NetSpend Premier version of the card, which features a lower monthly fee, a “purchase cushion” of $10 if you’re short on funds, and a free customized photo card.

The Cost of Access

NetSpend has three tiers of plans for its prepaid card customers:

  •      Pay-As-You-Go: There is no monthly fee, but NetSpend charges $1 per transaction requiring a signature and $2 per transaction requiring your PIN.
  •      FeeAdvantage Plan: Monthly fee of $9.95.
  •      NetSpend Premier FeeAdvantage Plan: Monthly fee of $5 (to qualify for Premier you must direct deposit at least $500 per month)

There is a wide variety of fees that apply to all cards, including a $2.50 fee on all domestic ATM withdrawals. The full list of fees is available on NetSpend’s website.

The Verdict

NetSpend is an attractive option for a few reasons. First, with no credit check required and no minimum deposit, virtually anyone can open a NetSpend card. Second, NetSpend customers get access to most of the important functions of a modern bank account (online account access, online bill pay, direct deposit) without needing a bank account.

But the card’s benefits must be weighed against the cost of ownership. For the Pay-As-You-Go plan, charges can quickly rack up if NetSpend is your main spending card. NetSpend has no in-network ATMs, so every ATM withdrawal will cost you a minimum of $2.50, plus any ATM operator fee.

Finally, like most prepaid cards, NetSpend does not contribute to your credit report. Even if you use the card responsibly, keep in mind that you won’t be building credit. (You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Our Picks for Low-Cost Prepaid Cards

If you’re looking at prepaid cards, you might want to check out these alternatives that could cost you less. Here are two of our favorites.

Bluebird by American Express and Walmart

Bluebird by American Express

Why We Picked It: The Bluebird card comes with minimal fees and free ATM access is available at over 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs. Bluebird customers also get four free cards to distribute and set spending and ATM limits, making it a great card for sharing funds with family. It has its own version of a savings account, and even comes with paper checks.

Fees: There is no monthly fee. Instant access to check deposits will cost 1% to 5% of the check amount, at a minimum of $5. ATM transactions at non-MoneyPass ATMs cost $2.50. Cardholders can also withdraw cash at Walmart using Cash Pickup Powered by Ria at a fee of $3, $6 or $9, depending on the withdrawal amount.

American Express Serve

American Express Serve®

Why We Picked It: The American Express Serve card has many common bank account features, and you could potentially use the card for free. You can load the card using direct deposit, bank transfer, mobile check deposit or in person at over 45,000 locations. The card features free online bill pay and free ATM withdrawals at over 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs.

Fees: The $1 monthly fee is waived if you direct deposit $500 or more each month. Expedited check deposits cost 1% of the check amount on payroll or government checks and 5% on all other checks with a $5 minimum. There is a $2.50 fee at non-participating ATMs.

By only using participating ATMs, direct depositing more than $500 per month and waiting for your checks to clear, you could conceivably use the card for free.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.


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