Amex Bluebird Stands as the Better American Express Prepaid Option

Jul 29, 2016 | Be First to Comment!

amex bluebird serve

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

But, chances are you just need one of these cards. So, if you were left to pick one of the two, you might have trouble identifying the features that separate them.

That's why I decided to take a deep dive into both and break down the key factors of the two accounts. Hopefully, this will help you in your decision process. Let's get started!

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 an absolute turnoff. You hate them. I hate them. Everyone hates 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.

What's the policy? The Bluebird account doesn’t charge any monthly fee at all - a very desirable trait in a prepaid card.

Meanwhile, the Serve card carries a monthly fee of $1 per month (but it's free in NY, TX, and VT). This monthly fee can be waived with any direct deposit of $500 per month. For the who don't have a steady direct deposit source, there are ways that you can "fake" a direct deposit. (Pro tip: this is also a method some people use to up their chances of receiving a signup bonus on a rewards credit card.)

Although it isn't too difficult to avoid the monthly fee on the Serve card, the fee still does pose an unnecessary hurdle for card customers. It's just simpler to not have to worry about any possible monthly fee. Therefore, Bluebird appears to be a better option when it comes to monthly fees.

Fund reloads: American Express Serve Offers Better Options

If you're looking at a prepaid card, chances are it's because you need something to act as a bank account for you so you can make transactions without having to rely on cash. But you don't want to end up losing your hard-earned money to fees for refilling your prepaid card - sort of defeats the purpose.

The good news is, both of these cards provide you with a way to use a prepaid card refill fee-free.

For both Bluebird and Serve, it's free to reload your account by direct deposit, debit card, checking account, savings account, mobile check deposit, and at Walmart. One very big difference is that you can reload your American Express Serve® account with a cash reload card (which costs up to $3.95 each time), but there is no such option for the American Express Bluebird account.

One very big difference is that you can reload your American Express Serve® account with cash using a cash reload card (which costs up to $3.95 each time), but there is no such option for the American Express Bluebird account. With Bluebird, the only way to reload your card with cash is to do so at Walmart.

On the other hand, Bluebird allows customers to mail in checks for deposit. Mailing in checks may not be the most convenient method of depositing a check, but you'll never know when you might need to take this route, so it's great that it's an option just in case you need it. Perhaps most convenient of allm both prepaid accounts allow customers to deposit checks through their smartphones.

It's extremely odd that Bluebird doesn't allow cash reloads through reload cards, which is a common feature with most other prepaid cards. As a result, Bluebird customers would need to be within close proximity to a Walmart store if they need to make frequent cash reloads.

Serve customers, however, can reload cash at the register through the retailer locations of CVS/pharmacy, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Rite Aid, Walmart, and 7-ELEVEN. However, there is a reload fee that varies depending on the retailer.

In the long run, you're more likely to need cash reloads over mail-in check deposits. Even if you have to pay a fee for it, the greater ease of cash reloads is why American Express Serve® is better for reloads.

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, right? Who wants to fork over a few bucks every time you withdraw cash? No one.

That's why it's so great that both accounts have a relationship with the MoneyPass ATM network (24,000 ATMs nationwide). This provides a huge amount of free access to ATMs for customers of either card.

  • 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.

Both accounts also allow customers to withdraw cash from their accounts at Walmart through the Cash Pickup Powered by Ria service. You can withdraw up to $900 (up to $2,900 if the withdrawal involves a tax refund) for a fee that could cost up to $9 ($9.49 for American Express Serve®). It's an expensive service that pales comparison to a regular ATM withdrawal at a MoneyPass ATM.

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. As if that wasn't already a great perk, external bank transfers and online bill pay are also free.

As an added bonus, both Bluebird and Serve have tools to help you control spending. That means you not only get easy access to your money, but you have additional help making sure you manage it in a way that helps your finances grow.

So what are the tools? They're called Reserve accounts and they enable you to set up goal-based savings funds. You can also use these with your significant other and/or family members by creating sub-accounts for others. You can create up to 4 sub-accounts (for anyone 13 and older). Sub-account users can:

  • Use their cards to pay for purchases online or in-store
  • Withdraw cash at ATMs only if it is allowed by a primary accountholder
  • Send money to and request money from a primary accountholder

The subaccounts can come in handy for parents who want to enable their children to have some spending power. At the same time, parents can monitor the sub-accounts to teach responsible financial management.

Of the two prepaid accounts, Bluebird is the only one that lets you write paper checks. In fact, most other prepaid accounts do not allow check-writing at all. That is a major reason why prepaid accounts don't usually have overdraft fees - because it's difficult to overdraw a prepaid account without checks.

Paper checks may be used less frequently but they can still come in handy. For example, your landlord may still require that you pay your rent with a check.

Bluebird takes an unconventional approach to check-writing. Customers get an order of Bluebird checks, each of which must be pre-authorized before they become valid. In order to do that, all you have to do is log into your account and tell American Express the check number and the check amount. The funds to cover the check will be removed from your account immediately and you'll receive a pre-authorization code that must be printed on the Bluebird check.

Any Bluebird check that is not pre-authorized will not be honored. This extra step will prevent customers from overdrawing their accounts. Since the check funds are guaranteed, these Bluebird checks work very much like cashier's checks.

The ability to write checks is a major reason that Bluebird provides more ways for a customer to use their money. It makes the Bluebird account more like a traditional checking account from a bank.

Mobile Features: Same Account Management Features

Since mobile banking has become very important when considering a new financial account, many people like to see mobile apps offered by their financial institutions. With both accounts being offered by American Express, Bluebird and Serve have well-designed and feature-packed mobile apps. In fact, they offer nearly identical capabilities.

Both apps allow you to check balances, view transaction history, add money, pay bills, and manage sub-accounts. The key feature offered by both apps is mobile check deposit, which is free with both prepaid accounts. Pretty much everything you might need to take care of is covered!

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 you have 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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