American Express (Amex) Serve cards are prepaid debit cards with fee waivers, no credit checks, and online account access. With FDIC coverage and additional features that help you manage your finances, one of the three available Serve cards can essentially replace a checking account at traditional brick-and-mortar banks. You can use a Serve card to make purchases using funds that you load into your account, and since you're spending your own money, you won't rack up debt or overdraft fees.
Benefits of the Cards
An FDIC-insured Serve account lets you do a lot more than just make purchases, it also comes with free ATM withdrawals at more than 30,000 MoneyPass ATM locations, free online bill pay, and instant cash transfers. A Serve card also offers free early direct deposit. If your employer submits payroll information early enough, Amex may credit your account 1–2 days before your scheduled payment date—giving you a few extra days to draw upon your funds.
If somebody pays you with a check, you can deposit those funds to your Serve account directly from 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. When you need cash, you can withdraw large sums at Walmart locations and 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, but fees will be applied for cash pickups.
How to Add Funds
There are four ways to load your Serve account: direct deposit, bank transfer, mobile deposit, or a cash deposit at a retailer. With direct deposit, employers can electronically transfer your check. This is the best option if you want to minimize costs because the standard Serve card has a fee waiver for direct deposits. Most banks will also allow you to make electronic transfers to your card at no cost.
If you need to deposit cash, supermarkets, convenience stores, and pharmacies nationwide participate in this program, although a fee may apply depending on which kind of Serve card you use. Mobile deposits are also convenient, but you may need to wait up to 10 days or pay a modest fee before funds are available for spending.
A Serve account is free if you set up an account online, but it may cost up to $3.95 from retail locations. If you need a replacement card, it's $5. The monthly fee is $6.95 unless you have a direct deposit of at least $500 per month. If you're not able to find a MoneyPass ATM, you may pay up to $2.50 in withdrawals fees and $0.75 per declined ATM transaction.
Serve cards comes in three varieties: the standard Serve card, the Serve FREE Reloads, and the Serve Cash Back. The standard Serve card, which is the most popular, 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.
The Serve FREE card, which offers free cash deposits with a monthly fee of $6.95, makes sense for those who have no bank account and primarily earn wages in cash. The Cash Back card, which offers 1% back on purchases with no annual cap, has a monthly fee of $7.95. 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. Both the FREE and Cash Back cards include all the benefits of the Serve card.
Serve cards are among the most affordable prepaid cards available, and they're packed with useful features, but they don't come without downsides. Amex cards are accepted at countless online and brick-and-mortar merchants, but some retailers choose not to accept them because of the transaction fees. You may occasionally need to find an alternate way to pay.
The 10-day waiting period for mobile check deposits, and the expedition fee are also not common among traditional checking accounts. Most banks make funds available faster than that, and you may experience problems if you don't keep extra cash on hand.