Prepaid cards have many different fees and the best card varies based on how you use it. Our prepaid card calculator takes inputs on how you plan to use the card, automatically calculates the different fees, and ranks the cards based on cost. The resulting table also provides detailed reviews and a fee breakdown under “More Info.”
Prepaid card fees have come down for the most competitive cards. The main variations for the top cards have to do with ATM withdrawals, card reload and customer service. There are two ATM withdrawal fees: one charged by the owner of the machine and one charged by the card issuer. The cheapest cards do not charge fees for either. The next area of differentiation is card reload. To put cash on your card you generally need to use a third party service like a MoneyPak. These services charge the same fee for all cards but some cards allow you to reload your card at their stores for a lower fee or no fee. Note that these fees only relate to cash reloads. Direct deposit reloads are free. The final area of differentiation is customer service. Many cards charge a fee for calling customer service, others provide a couple free calls a month and some have free customer service. It can be difficult to compare cards across these different fees. The prepaid card calculator will calculate these fees automatically.
Here is a more detailed explanation of usage fields:
Direct Deposit: Will you reload your card with direct deposit or not. All cards provide direct deposit reloads for free so don’t be sold by “Free Direct Deposit” as this is free with every card. The reason we include it here is that some cards will actually waive fees if you do direct deposit.
Purchases: How many purchases will you make a week? This attribute is not as important anymore. In the past some cards would charge you every time you made a purchase. Today, the top cards will not charge you to make a purchase.
ATM Withdrawals: How many ATM cash withdrawals will you make? There are two fees here: one charged by the card issuer and one charged by the ATM machine owner. Some card issuers waive both fees on ATM machines they own. The prepaid calculator separates out between in-network and out-of-network machines to differentiate whether you make withdrawals from the owner’s machine or not. To find the location of each card’s machines click on “More Info” under each card to find a link to their network of machines.
Loading Your Card: How much you will deposit in total each month and how many cash loads will you make. How much you will deposit is your total deposit. It includes direct deposit AND cash loads. Many cards reduce and even waive fees depending on how much money you deposit on your card. This is because the cards earn a small fee from merchants when you use the card. So the more you use the card the more money they will make. The number of times you do cash loads lets the calculator estimate your fees for cash loads. The calculator assumes you will use the cheapest method to load your card.
Account Maintenance: How many times will you check your balance at the ATM? And how often will you call customer service? Most cards will charge you if you check your balance on an ATM. We suggest you check balances online where it is free instead of going to an ATM. The cost of customer service calls varies greatly among cards. Some charge up to $3 a call while others are free. .
Time: How long do you plan to hold this card? Some cards charge activation or one-time fees. Knowing how long you will hold the card lets the calculator figure out the effective weekly cost of these one-time fees.
Once you set your usage click “Find Card” and the calculator will show a list of cards ranked by cost. Click on “More Info” to see a detailed review, cost break down, and fee schedule for each card. The cost breakdown will vary based on your usage. For example, customer service calls may be free if you do direct deposit but have a fee if you don’t have direct deposit. So expect to see this to change as you change your usage behavior. You can adjust the usage to see how cards re-rank.
Prepaid cards do not build credit. If you have bad credit and are looking to build your credit we recommend secured credit cards. They are available to individuals with no or bad credit and they do build credit by reporting to the three major bureaus. To learn more visit What is a Secured Card and The Best Secured Cards.