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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.

CardAmerican Express Bluebird American Express Serve
CardAmerican Express BluebirdAmerican Express Serve
Monthly fee$0$1 ($0 in NY, TX, VT), waived with monthly direct deposit, $500 load or link to Isis mobile wallet
Unique fund reloadsMail in checksFree for cash reload at CVS, Family Dollar and select 7-Eleven stores, AND fee-free reload by credit card (cash advance fees may apply)
ATM access$0 at MoneyPass ATMs with direct deposits, $2 at MoneyPass ATMs (no surcharge without direct deposit), $2 at all other ATMs (surcharges may apply)$0 at all MoneyPass ATMs, $2 at all other ATMs (surcharges may apply)
Unique ways to spendingAbility to write checksLink to Isis mobile wallet for offers
Overall winner:--WINNER

Prepaid Card Monthly fees

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 or $500 loaded into the account per month. But, the very best way to avoid the fee is by linking the Serve card to the Isis mobile wallet app. It’s the no-brainer option because the app is free and you just have to connect the card to it to avoid the monthly fee for good!

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

WINNER (Monthly fees): American Express Bluebird

Fund reloads

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 each account.

  • Bluebird only:Mail in checks
  • Serve only: Free cash reload at CVS, Family Dollar and participating 7-Eleven location AND fee-free reload by credit card (watch out for cash advance fees!)

The Serve card takes the cake on this aspect due to the ability to reload cash at more retailers — a much greater convenience than mailing in check.

WINNER (Fund reloads): American Express Serve

ATM access

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) but the Serve card has the better fee policy.

  • Bluebird: Cash withdrawals are free at MoneyPass ATMs only if you received a direct deposit within the last 30 days. Otherwise, they cost $2 each at MoneyPass ATMs (no surcharge) and $2 at all other ATMs (possible surcharge, too)
  • Serve: Cash withdrawals are free at all MoneyPass ATMs. All other withdrawals cost $2 each (surcharge possible)

When it comes to the friendlier ATM access policy, I’d take the Serve card without a doubt.

WINNER (ATM access): American Express Serve

Spending money

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: You can link the card to the Isis mobile wallet to receive various offers on purchases

It’s hard to pick out a clear victor in this category, so I’ll say that they come out even.

WINNER (Spending money): Tied

Verdict: American Express Serve

For the better all-around prepaid option, Amex Serve is the way to go. The monthly fee is extremely easy to waive (just link the card to Isis — you don’t even have to use Isis if you don’t want to!), but the cheaper reload options and ATM access are the key differentiators that make Serve better than Bluebird.

The sole reason that I would recommend the Bluebird account above the Serve card is if you want to write paper checks. If you haven’t written a check in the past three months go with the Serve card instead.

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  • Al

    Might give Serve a try, anything beats NetSpend Premier PrePaid. They charge a $5 premium fee that I cannot get removed.

  • Tevin

    You can load your bluebird card through walmart so you don’t have to write a check.

    • Simon Zhen

      Sorry, I’m a little confused — you’re referring to a loading method versus a payment method.

  • FrostyBear

    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.

    • Simon Zhen

      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.

    • Veni Vidi Vici

      A lot of companies on the web use recurring billing, one reason I hate using my Bank and credit card online.
      Great for monitoring teens spending habits while giving them an allowance.
      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.
      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.
      Prepaid Cards offer the safety of credit cards without going into further debt

      • Simon Zhen

        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.

    • beara

      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 & dime you. So I switched to prepaid, it’s easier & 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.

  • gigzter

    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.

    • Simon Zhen

      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.

      • Thanks

        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!!!!!!!

        • Simon Zhen

          Glad, we were able to be of help to you. Let use know how you like (or hate) the Bluebird account!

  • gigzter

    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…

  • gigzter

    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).

    • beara

      That’s right, I never had direct deposit on my Bluebird card and have used MoneyPass ATM without any fee.

  • Colleen McCaffrey

    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.

  • mezma87

    What is Isis mobile wallet and how well does it work