To consumers like you and me, monthly fees are the bane of financial accounts. If we’re not paying those fees, we’re jumping through hoops to avoid them.
Even for an extremely consumer-friendly prepaid card such as American Express Serve, there’s a pestering $1 monthly fee ($0 in NY, TX and VT). Frankly, it’s not much.
You’re looking at a nominal annual cost of $12 for the best prepaid debit card on the market.
It is far cheaper than the $12 per month that you might face with a checking account. But, you’d probably still want to dodge that fee if you can.
American Express Serve
|American Express Serve®||American Express Serve® FREE Reloads||American Express Serve® Cash Back|
|Card Price||$0 Online Up to $3.95 in retail locations||$0 Online Up to $3.95 in retail locations||$0 Online Up to $3.95 in retail locations|
|Monthly Fee (No fee in TX, NY, VT)||$1 - or - $0 when you Direct Deposit $500+x||$4.95||$5.95|
|Cash Back||-||-||Unlimited 1% Cash Back on purchases, no annual cap (Added to your Account to use for future purchases. Account spend limits apply.)|
|Cash Reloads||Up to $3.95 (fee varies by retailer)||$0 at over 45,000 locations including CVS/pharmacy®, Dollar General®, Family Dollar®, Rite Aid®, Walmart® and participating 7‑ELEVEN® locations||Up to $3.95 (fee varies by retailer)|
|Mobile Check Deposit||$0||$0||$0|
|Add Money from a Bank Account||$0||$0||$0|
|ATM Withdrawals||$0 at MoneyPass® ATMs $2.50 at non-MoneyPass ATMs.‡ ATM operator fees may apply.||$0 at MoneyPass® ATMs $2.50 at non-MoneyPass ATMs.‡ ATM operator fees may apply.||$0 at MoneyPass® ATMs $2.50 at non-MoneyPass ATMs.‡ ATM operator fees may apply.|
|Online Bill Pay||$0||$0||$0|
|Send and Receive Money||$0||$0||$0|
|Set Aside Money in Reserve||$0||$0||$0|
|24/7 Customer Service||$0||$0||$0|
|Purchase Protection on Eligible Purchases||$0||$0||$0|
|Foreign Transactions||2.7% after conversion to US Dollars||2.7% after conversion to US Dollars||2.7% after conversion to US Dollars|
|Cash Pickup Powered by Ria®||Up to $9.49y per withdrawal||Up to $9.49y per withdrawal||Up to $9.49y per withdrawal|
Fortunately, Serve allows cardmembers to waive the American Express Serve monthly fee with any of these three options:
- Post a monthly direct deposit of any amount
- Load $500 per month
If you can avoid the monthly fee legitimately, that’s great. If you can’t, I offer several “hacks” that could help make it easier for you to waive that $1 monthly fee.
When you hear “direct deposits,” you’re probably thinking about your paychecks. But, little did you know, direct deposits only refers to a type of deposit as recognized by a bank’s system.
There are actually many different transactions that can be considered as a direct deposit.
Government benefits, sales commissions and other incoming payments can also count as direct deposits. But, one neat trick might trump them all: transfer money to yourself from an external account.
Before you try this, let me be clear: It does not work with every account or bank, so your experience may vary.
Now, depending on the bank or financial institution, certain incoming fund transfers may be considered direct deposits by the American Express Serve account. (I myself have used this method to meet fee-waiver requirements on my own checking account.)
It’s your job to find out which one of your other financial accounts will work. Those accounts could be held with online banks, brokerages and even PayPal.
It is crucial, however, that the transfer is initiated through the external account, not from your American Express Serve account.
What you can do: From a savings account, transfer $1 into your American Express Serve account to see if they help you avoid the $1 monthly fee. If not, try a checking, brokerage or PayPal account. When you find an account that does work, set up a recurring monthly transfer for $1 so that you don’t have to worry about manually repeating this trick.
Unfortunately, American Express Serve cardmembers don’t get an account alert when they successfully post a direct deposit in their accounts (I asked).
$500 Reload Option
To avoid the American Express Serve monthly fee, you have to load the account with $500 for the month.
Coming up with $500 to inject into a financial account can be a tall order for anyone. Then, you’re asked to do so every month.
Honestly, there is not much of a loophole that you can take advantage of if you want to avoid the monthly fee with the $500 reload option.
What you can do: The only way that would work is to gather $500 in the first place and cycle it in and out of your account. That is to say that you’ll load the $500, withdraw the $500, and repeat.
Remember to withdraw the money from a MoneyPass ATM, through which you are not charged a withdrawal fee.
Also, don’t try to be slick and use the American Express Serve Send Money feature to cycle the $500 between two Serve accounts -- it doesn’t count toward the $500 load amount, according to Serve’s terms and conditions.
So, it’s not hard to see why American Express Serve shows up on MyBankTracker's list of the best prepaid debit cards available.