For a variety of reasons, including the simple lure of conducting an experiment, I am in the process of switching away from a traditional bank and over to another (hopefully) more portable form of banking, and documenting the process. This is the second installment of my journey toward going bankless.
Sort of like PayPal, sort of not
The Bluebird® by American Express card seems to offer the most features, including checks, while functioning a bit like PayPal (which I have been using for years) and a bit like a regular bank, while really just being a prepaid debit card. Setting up access to the bank account I am slowly phasing out was just like linking a bank account to PayPal.
While PayPal doesn’t issue paper checks, Bluebird’s checks similar to an instant transfer from PayPal. To use a check, the money is preauthorized, which I like, since my roommate has been known to hold onto my rent checks until I am least expecting them to clear.
One thing that makes Bluebird very different from PayPal is the ability to set up direct deposit to the account. However, this isn’t always a straightforward process.
I started out navigating the process of direct deposit or requesting money with my editor here at MyBankTracker, Claire Tak. I discussed the options for making my freelance contract payments to me with her. She could send a check to me and I could endorse it and either scan it with my phone or mail it to the Bluebird® by American Express office, or I could send her a request for money. Since she hadn’t set up an account and the payment would be coming from a commercial business, we weren’t sure how this would work, but it was the option I selected.
Once into the process, Claire had to set up an account, the details of which had to be verified. The process took several days, with a lot of uncertainty in between. By the time the verification process was complete, Claire had already sent me my check for the month to my old bank as we had been doing it in the past, with “For deposit only” and my account number written into the signature line. Other than it taking several days in the mail to get from one coast to another, this has been a simple and easy process.
There was also some confusion with my full-time job. I already get direct deposit to my old bank account. I figured that it would make sense to only have part of the biweekly paychecks sent to the Bluebird card, with the smaller remainder going into my traditional bank account until I got all of my accounts unlinked and other details out of the way.
Bluebird has an easy form to fill out and print to simplify direct deposit, but I still had to fill out a company form. I submitted the form early in the pay period, but found out a few days before pay day that the account would also have to be verified, and my first check would be live. Meanwhile, a deposit of $0.20 would be made to the account to test it out. After I learned all of that, I got a call from our payroll person asking me if the account was checking or savings. I told her that it was neither, but with the system she uses, she had to designate one of those two account types. We decided that since it works sort of like checking, that would be the code she would check off. We’ll see if it works.
When I get paid with a live check this period, I will test out the process of depositing/uploading a check to my Bluebird account to see if it is as easy as they claim and report back.
Shirley is a staff writer for MyBankTracker who covers personal finance trends, money habits, mortgages and foreclosures.