Amex Serve: A Prepaid Card That Acts Like a Checking Account

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The American Express (Amex) Serve card is a prepaid debit card with fee waivers that are easy to qualify for. With FDIC coverage and additional features that help you manage your finances, the card can virtually replace a checking account.

Like all prepaid debit cards, the Amex Serve card functions just like a credit card. You can use it to make purchases online or in person using funds that you load into your account. Because you’re spending your own money, you won't rack up debt on the card, and you’ll avoid overdraft fees that are typical of checking accounts.

Benefits of the Amex Serve Card

Your Amex Serve account lets you do a lot more than just make purchases and withdraw cash at ATMs.

Online bill payment: You can pay bills for free using the account balance on your card. Amex will mail a check or pay your bills electronically, so you can automate your finances and avoid missing payments.

Mobile check deposit: If somebody pays you with a check, you can deposit those funds to your Amex Serve account with your mobile device. There’s no need to make a trip to the bank or ATM. You can also set up direct deposit, which automates the process entirely and helps you minimize fees.

Early direct deposit: If your employer submits payroll information early enough, Amex may credit your account one or two days before your scheduled pay date. That gives you a few extra days to draw upon your funds.

Money transfers and cash pickup: When you need old-fashioned cash, you can withdraw large sums at Walmart locations. This means you can get more cash than most ATMs allow in one transaction. You can also send funds for somebody else to pick up your money at their local Walmart. It's worth noting that fees will be applied for cash pickups.

Subaccounts: Instead of just giving money to somebody else, you can make funds available to them through an Amex Serve subaccount. This is useful for paying allowances or fronting money for a contractor to buy materials.

FDIC Insurance: Funds that you load to your Amex Serve account qualify for FDIC insurance. To be eligible, you’ll need to register with Amex Serve, and typically it takes one business day for Amex to place your funds in FDIC-insured bank accounts.

In addition to the features above, roadside assistance, buyer protection, and other perks make the card worth investigating.

How to Add Funds

There are several ways to load your Amex Serve account.

Direct deposit: Employers can directly deposit your weekly wages. This is the best option if you want to minimize costs because the standard Amex Serve card provides the opportunity for a fee waiver with direct deposit.

Transfer from your bank account: Most banks allow you to make electronic transfers to your card at no cost.

Deposit cash at retailers: Supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies nationwide all participate in this program, although a fee may apply, depending on which kind of Serve card you use.

Mobile deposits: Nothing is more convenient than making a mobile deposit, although you may need to wait ten days or pay a modest fee before funds are available for spending

Fees

Your Amex Serve account is free in the following instances:

  • All cards are free as long as you sign up online.
  • Monthly charges on the standard Serve card are waived if you set up direct deposit of at least $500 per month.
  • ATM access is free at more than 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs. Other networks result in charges from American Express and the ATM operator.
  • Deposits to your account are free if done electronically. The standard card features a fee for cash deposits, but the FREE Reloads card offers over 45,000 locations for fee-free deposits.

Three Kinds of Cards

The Amex Serve card comes in three varieties.

  1. The Standard Serve card, which is a low-cost prepaid card useful for receiving pay, making purchases, and paying bills. This may be the best option for W-2 employees and freelancers who primarily get paid by check or with electronic deposits.
  2. The FREE Reloads card, which offers free cash deposits with a monthly fee of $4.95. This option may make sense for those who have no bank account and primarily earn wages in cash.
  3. The Cash Back card, which offers 1 percent back on purchases and features a monthly fee of $5.95. Cash back rewards are virtually nonexistent with debit cards—especially prepaid cards—so this is a unique offering. The Cash Back card may make sense for those who load and spend large amounts.

    Potential Pitfalls

    The Amex Serve card is one of the most affordable prepaid cards available, and it’s packed with useful features. Still, it’s always helpful to understand the downside.

    American Express cards are accepted at countless online and brick and mortar merchants. But some retailers choose not to take Amex. Occasionally, you may need to find an alternate way to pay.

    Mobile check deposits to your Serve account typically require a ten-day wait before you can access the funds. Most banks make funds available faster than that, and you may experience problems if you don’t keep extra cash on hand. Amex will expedite check deposits—with potential same-day availability—for a fee.