Amex Bluebird Stands as the Better American Express Prepaid Option

May 25, 2016 | 22 Comments

amex bluebird serve

Leave it to American Express to make things more confusing in an already-crowded prepaid cards market by offering two very similar options for people who are looking for an alternative to a traditional checking account. They are the Amex Serve prepaid card and the Bluebird account -- both of which are assuredly great options.

But, if you were left to pick one of the two, you might have trouble identifying the features that separate them.

I’ve broken down the key factors of the two accounts to help sway your decision process.

Card American Express Bluebird American Express Serve
Monthly fee $0 $1 ($0 in NY, TX, VT) or waived with $500 monthly direct deposit
Unique fund reloads Mail in checks None
ATM access $0 at all MoneyPass ATMs, $2 at all other ATMs (surcharges may apply) $0 at all MoneyPass ATMs, $2 at all other ATMs (surcharges may apply)
Unique ways to spend Ability to write checks None

Prepaid Card Monthly fees: American Express Bluebird Costs Less

Monthly fees are absolute turnoffs. You hate them. I hate them. But with prepaid cards, monthly fees are often unavoidable, which is why it is so refreshing to see that American Express offers consumer-friendly fee policies.

The Bluebird account doesn’t charge any monthly fee at all -- a very desirable trait.

Meanwhile, the Serve card carries a monthly fee of $1 per month (free in NY, TX and VT), which can be waived with any direct deposit of $500 per month.

Despite the easy fee-waiver on the Serve card, Bluebird wins this matchup slightly because there is no possibility of a monthly fee.

Fund reloads: American Express Bluebird is Easier to Reload

You’re getting a prepaid card because you need a financial account to conduct transactions. Essentially, you’ll be spending. So, you’re obviously thinking about how much its going to cost to refill your prepaid account.

For both Bluebird and Serve, it is free to reload the account by direct deposit, debit card, checking account, savings account, mobile check deposit and at Walmart. Cash-reload packs are available for both accounts, but the cost will vary by retailer.

However, take note of the unique reload options offered by Bluebird

  • Bluebird only: Mail in checks
  • Serve only: None

Bluebird offers an extra way for customers to load their funds. Although mailing in checks isn't exactly the most convenient, it is an additional option above what is offered by Serve.

ATM access: Tied

Regardless of what type of account you have, you want to know that you can access your money whenever you want to, preferably for free. Who wants to fork over a few bucks every time you withdraw cash? You certainly don’t want to.

Both accounts have a relationship with the MoneyPass ATM network (24,000 ATMs nationwide including Walmart and other major retailers).

  • Bluebird: Cash withdrawals are free at all MoneyPass ATMs. All other withdrawals cost $2.50 each (surcharge possible)
  • Serve: Cash withdrawals are free at all MoneyPass ATMs. All other withdrawals cost $2.50 each (surcharge possible)

With the exact same level of ATM access, these cards are tied for this category.

Spending money: American Express Bluebird Offers Checks

Can you imagine being charged every time that you used your card to pay for something? Many prepaid cards impose such a transaction fee. Luckily, you won’t face those charges with either of these American Express accounts. Additionally, external bank transfers and online bill pay are free.

Interestingly enough, both accounts have tools to help you control spending. They have Reserve accounts that allow you to allocate funds for a specific purpose. And, they let you create sub-accounts for others. You’ll want these tools if budgeting is a financial priority.

Despite their equal footing so far, there are unique features that set them apart. Strangely, one account reinforces the “dying” trend, while the other account attempts to usher in a new financial age.

  • Bluebird: You can write paper checks, if you still happen to be part of the shrinking consumer group that still uses this medium of financial payment
  • Serve: None

The ability to write checks is a major reason that Bluebird provides more ways for a customer to use their money. It may also come in handy for many bill payment purposes.

Verdict: American Express Bluebird is Better

For the better all-around prepaid option, Amex Bluebird is the way to go. There's no monthly fee and the ability to write paper checks -- much like a checking account.

With Amex Bluebird behaving so much like a regular checking account, Amex Serve has trouble competing with it.

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SimonMBT
Wednesday, 06 Jul 2016 6:37 PM
<p>That's just the pricing scheme used by American Express. It happens with many other banks and accounts. For instance, certain checking accounts by some national banks have different monthly fees based on the state.</p>
logangates
Friday, 01 Jul 2016 3:41 AM
<p>Why no fee in tx vt and ny?</p>
Wednesday, 22 Jun 2016 5:50 PM
<p>I reloaded with debit prepaid. The website wouldn't accept my card so I had to go into the store. She said cash reliads are free but not debits. </p>
SimonMBT
Wednesday, 22 Jun 2016 5:36 AM
<p>Can you clarify? Did you try to reload cash at Walmart or reload through a debit card?</p><p>Currently, it appears that Amex Serve can be linked to a debit card for free reloads. Also, when did you register for an Amex Serve card? There are 2 version with different terms.</p>
jlynnbrown
Wednesday, 15 Jun 2016 12:48 AM
<p>Update on the reloads: Walmart charges a $3.74 reload fee to load serve with debit card. $0 fee to load bluebird with debit card.</p>
SimonMBT
Monday, 13 Apr 2015 7:27 PM
<p>Glad, we were able to be of help to you. Let use know how you like (or hate) the Bluebird account!</p>
Friday, 10 Apr 2015 10:54 PM
<p>I checked your review because of Foreign Transaction Fee. I want to buy some online stuff from the other country. If the user gigzter didnt mention the transaction fee, I could have gotten Serve. Thanks for both!!!!! That helped me a lot!!!!!!!</p>
Saturday, 28 Feb 2015 12:45 AM
<p>What is Isis mobile wallet and how well does it work<br></p>
colleensevenstars
Thursday, 18 Dec 2014 8:16 PM
<p>I like the BlueBird card because it links to Walmart's Savings Catcher app and gives you twice the money back on any refunds that the app gives you. Plus it is MUCH easier to get the cashiers at Walmart to just swipe the card, instead of having to key in coupons printed from the app.</p>
disqus_PBixbuOqii
Friday, 28 Nov 2014 6:13 PM
<p>Not everybody is happy with their local banks. I don't like debt so I don't use credit cards. In my area, a lot of banks charge you a fee for everything. I've even been charged to deposit money to my credit union account... doesn't make sense why banks nickel &amp; dime you. So I switched to prepaid, it's easier &amp; cheaper. The only thing I don't like about the AMEX is that it's not accepted everywhere, so I also have a M/C.</p>
disqus_PBixbuOqii
Friday, 28 Nov 2014 6:07 PM
<p>That's right, I never had direct deposit on my Bluebird card and have used MoneyPass ATM without any fee.</p>
SimonMBT
Thursday, 06 Nov 2014 3:03 PM
<p>These are many of the reasons that some people (even though they can qualify for a checking account or credit card) choose to pick up a prepaid card.</p>
SimonMBT
Thursday, 06 Nov 2014 3:02 PM
<p>You make a great point. But, I'd think that these cards would not be frequently used to make purchases abroad, so it didn't seem like a major factor in the decision process.</p>
mike_71
Thursday, 06 Nov 2014 1:15 PM
<p>A lot of companies on the web use recurring billing, one reason I hate using my Bank and credit card online.<br> Great for monitoring teens spending habits while giving them an allowance.<br> Prepaid card also offer a level of safety 1st by not carrying cash and if the prepaid account is hacked you loss in my case $100-$200 dollars max and not entire bank account or have my credit card maxed out. <br> Granted most banks will reimburse loss via theft by why go though the hassle after all It is much easier to cancel the prepaid card. <br>Prepaid Cards offer the safety of credit cards without going into further debt</p>
Sunday, 02 Nov 2014 3:30 PM
<p>The direct deposit requirement for free MoneyPass ATM withdrawals also appears to have changed. The current Member Agreement no longer states “To qualify, at least one Direct Deposit payment must have been received in the thirty (30) days before the ATM transaction.” as it did before. The Fees and Limits section simply states $0 for MoneyPass withdrawals although there are daily withdrawal limits of $750/$2000 (individual/family).</p>
Sunday, 02 Nov 2014 3:13 PM
<p>ISIS Mobile (now Softcard) is not compatible with all phones/carriers either so check compatibility first. If you're not on the Big3 VZ, ATT, TMOB, you're probably out of luck...</p>
Sunday, 02 Nov 2014 3:05 PM
<p>You missed a huge difference in my book: Serve Foreign Transaction Fee 2.70%, BlueBird Foreign Transaction Fee 0%. Also as previously stated, BlueBird cash reloads are free at Wal-Mart.</p>
SimonMBT
Saturday, 25 Oct 2014 8:54 PM
<p>There are people out there who may not qualify for a regular checking or credit card as you have. This may be due to bad credit or prior negative banking histories. Without access to the typical debit or credit card, they can resort to non-traditional prepaid products like the Amex Bluebird account or Amex Serve prepaid card.</p>
Saturday, 25 Oct 2014 11:54 AM
<p>What advantages would this have for me? I already have a Visa debit, Visa credit, MC credit and some other credit cards and I'm super happy with my credit union (debit and credit). Would something like the Serve give me something that I'm not seeing or is it mostly for people that don't want to use a bank/CU? Just wondering if I'm missing something. Thanks.</p>
SimonMBT
Wednesday, 22 Oct 2014 4:08 PM
<p>Sorry, I'm a little confused -- you're referring to a loading method versus a payment method.</p>
Wednesday, 22 Oct 2014 2:47 PM
<p>You can load your bluebird card through walmart so you don't have to write a check.</p>
disqus_IOaeQ2WK4B
Tuesday, 07 Oct 2014 9:04 PM
<p>Might give Serve a try, anything beats NetSpend Premier PrePaid. They charge a $5 premium fee that I cannot get removed. </p>