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In today’s fast-paced, electronically tracked world, it’s unusual to not have at least one checking account to your name.
But for those who don’t want the responsibilities of a checking account, desire lower fees, or just want to safely teach their children the value of money, prepaid debit cards have grown in popularity.
In this review, we’re going to examine the Serve® American Express® card, formerly known as American Express Serve®.
AMEX recently discontinued this prepaid card, leaving their partner, Serve®, to handle their accounts.
However, American Express still backs the card as managed by Serve®, despite changes in the terms and conditions.
American Express® Serve® Pros and Cons
Even the best prepaid debit card has its pros and cons – though how they compare to other cards is for you to decide.
- Free to apply online
- Serve® Mobile App is free and easy to use
- Can set aside money for your future goals
- Large MoneyPass ATM network for free withdrawals
- Free funding reloads for direct deposits, mobile check deposits, and online transfers
- Access to AMEX Offers and other American Express perks
- Since Serve® took over, some fees have increased
- No interest earned on saved money
- Not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard
- Fees up to $3.95 on all cash reloads
- 2.7% foreign transaction fee after conversion to USD
What is the Serve® American Express® Card?
Serve® American Express® is the new and, perhaps, improved version of the old American Express Serve® card.
While many features remain the same, some terms and conditions – and fees – have changed.
Now, Serve® offers three versions of this iconic prepaid debit card. Each comes with essential features such as early direct deposit, easy cash reloads, and the free Serve® Mobile App to help you manage your money.
How Does the Serve® American Express® Reloadable Prepaid Card Work?
To get started with the Serve® American Express® card, all you have to do is register online or via the Serve® Mobile App.
There’s no credit check or banking history required, and registration is free. You should receive the card in the mail within 7-10 business days.
Once you have your card in hand, you can use it just like a regular debit card – once you load funds, of course.
You can do this by mobile check deposit, cash reloads at an authorized retailer, or transferring funds from a bank account or debit card.
Then, it’s time to spend! (Or save, if you prefer.)
American Express® Serve® Fees
After Serve® took over management of this prepaid debit card, they turned the previous offerings into three new tiers of the card.
Each shares the same basic features, such as no transaction fees, early direct deposit, and the same Serve® Mobile App.
The main difference among each of these cards is their fee structure. That said, all of their fees are transparently stated – there’s no “gotcha!” moment waiting around the corner.
Each card comes with the same basic framework:
- Buying the card in-store costs $1.50 (although signing up online is free)
- Cash reloads cost up to $3.95 per transaction, depending on the retailer
- Check deposit privileges range from free to 5% of the cost of your check ($5 minimum)
- Pulling money out of your account via Cash Pickup costs up to $9.49 per withdrawal
- Serve® Money Transfers cost up to $16.99 per transaction
Now, let’s break down each card individually to see how they compare.
Serve® Free Direct Deposit
Serve® Free Direct Deposit is the new “Basic” card. This tier costs $6.95 per month, but you can get a fee waiver if you direct deposit $500 or more per month. However, there’s no form of cashback, and each cash reload costs up to $3.95.
Serve® Free Reloads
Serve® Free Reloads costs $6.95 per month – but comes with free cash reloads at over 45,000 locations nationwide.
While there’s no way to waive the monthly fee, if you top up regularly at the register, this card is for you.
Serve® Cash Back
Serve® Cash Back is the most expensive of the three cards at $7.95 per month. That said, it’s the only card that offers unlimited 1% cashback on every purchase.
Whether you shop in-store or online, the money is available to add to your account as soon as the transaction settles.
However, due to the high monthly fee, Serve® Cash Back is most suitable for those who spend at least $795 per month.
Any less than that, and you’re not even earning enough cash back to cover the maintenance fee.
Serve® American Express® Features and Benefits
Although American Express no longer handles the prepaid card, they do back the account. In other words, you’ll still get to enjoy AMEX cardholder benefits – plus a few from Serve®.
AMEX Offers and Perks
Because Serve® American Express® is still part of the AMEX network, you can participate in AMEX Offers.
Dine out at a discount, shop online for less than full price, and scout tickets to the event of the year at reduced costs.
Plus, Serve® American Express® users still have their accounts serviced by the world-class American Express customer service team. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they’re there to take your call, send out roadside assistance, and provide purchase and fraud protection.
Money Management Tools in the Serve®® App
The Serve® Mobile App makes using your card a breeze. Quickly check your balance, transaction history, and detailed information about your purchases from your phone.
Plus, the app comes with a variety of money and account management features like:
- Locating nearby MoneyPass ATMs
- Moving money to reServe® accounts (savings accounts)
- Paying your bills
Not to mention, you can use the app to create up to four subaccounts, each with a separate prepaid card – perfect for couples, families, or separating your finances.
Free – and Early! – Direct Deposit
Another perk offered by Serve® American Express® is the ability to access your direct deposits up to two full days early. (Just keep in mind that your employer must submit payment information to your bank prior to payday to use this feature.)
Easily Send and Receive Money
Serve® American Express® also makes it easy to send and receive money for free between prepaid debit cards and bank accounts.
But if you need to send money to someone who doesn’t have a Serve® account, Serve® Money Transfer Powered by Ria® can send up to $2,500 for $16.99 per transaction.
Easy Cash Withdrawals
Serve® American Express® doesn’t allow you to pull cash out at registers. But you can pull out cash for free at over 30,000 MoneyPass ATMs nationwide, with no fees attached.
Keep in mind that if an ATM is not part of the MoneyPass network, a $2.50 transaction fee will apply.
Additionally, if you choose to use Serve® Cash Pickup Powered by Ria® at Walmart locations, you’ll pay up to $9.49 per withdrawal (limit $900 per day).
Text and Email Alerts
In addition to managing your Serve® account in-app, you can also opt into email and text alerts, such as low balance notifications, money added alerts, and available balance reminders.
Freeze Lost Cards
Freeze account options are the savior of many an absent-minded professor, busy mother, and forgetful teenager. If you suspect your card is lost, you can use the Serve® app to quickly freeze activity.
And just in case you forget, AMEX fraud protection means that you’re not responsible for fraudulent charges – ever.
Free Online Bill Pay
Not all prepaid debit cards offer free online bill pay – but Serve® does. All you have to do is log into your Serve® account or into the app and link your billing accounts.
It’s free (and easy!) to set up and to use.
No Background Credit Check
Because the Serve® American Express® card doesn’t extend a line of credit, you can’t spend over your balance.
As such, they don’t run a background credit check. This makes a Serve® account a good option for anyone with a poor credit score or a spotty financial record.
How Does the Serve® by American Express® Compare to Other Prepaid Cards?
Serve® by American Express® is an FDIC-protected, AMEX-backed prepaid debit card that comes with such perks as AMEX Offers, purchase protection and 24/7 customer service.
That said, this card is more costly than some other alternatives (and less costly than others), with a $1.50 retail setup fee, monthly maintenance charges up to $7.95, and reload fees up to $3.95 per transaction.
Plus, using your card internationally subjects you to a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%.
#1. Serve® by American Express® vs. Bluebird® by American Express
Bluebird® by American Express® is one of the cheapest prepaid debit cards around. In fact, if you direct deposit at least $500 per month and reload at Walmart locations, you can entirely bypass monthly maintenance and reload fees.
Plus, this card comes with more options to fund your account, check-writing abilities, and a comprehensive mobile app to manage your finances.
#2. Serve® by American Express® vs. Netspend® Prepaid Visa Card
Netspend® is one of the more expensive prepaid debit cards. Users have to choose between a monthly fee of $9.95 or a pay-per-transaction model that eats your funds.
Additionally, you’re limited to $15,000 per card, with no free network for reloads or withdrawals.
And if you stop using your card without closing your account, you’ll have to pay a monthly inactivity fee.
However, Visa® cards are more widely accepted than American Express. Plus, Netspend® does come with a 5% APY savings account on up to $1,000 and 0.50% for amounts above that.
Learn More: Netspend Prepaid Visa Card Review
#3. Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard vs. Serve® by American Express®
The Brink prepaid Mastercard® debit card is also more expensive than Serve® by American Express®.
With Brink, you have the option to pay $9.95 per month or direct deposit $500 per month to lower your maintenance fee to $5.
The card also comes with non-refundable ATM fees of $2.50 per transaction, 4% foreign transaction fees, and variable online bill pay charges.
However, like Netspend®, Brink’s prepaid Mastercard® also has a 5% APY savings account for eligible cardmembers.
Learn More: Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard Review
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is Better: Bluebird or Serve® American Express®?
Bluebird® by American Express® is a slightly better option for cardholders who want to lower their overall fees.
If you manage your Bluebird® account right, you can enjoy all the perks of a checking account and prepaid debit card for free.
That said, Serve® American Express® may work better if you’re a heavy spender who wants to enjoy unlimited 1% cash back on every transaction via the Serve®® Cash Back card.
Is Serve® by American Express® Free?
Serve® American Express® can be free if you use it right. For instance, you can opt for the Serve® Free Direct Deposit card and deposit more than $500 per month to eliminate monthly maintenance fees.
Or you can choose the Serve® Cash Back card and spend more than $800 per month to outspend the $7.95 monthly fee.
But even with these options, you’ll still have to navigate your way around other costs for a truly fee-free experience.
What is the Limit on Serve® by American Express®?
Serve® American Express® carries a limit of $100,000 across all of your accounts. Additionally, you’re limited to:
- $100,000 per year in direct deposits
- $10,000 per month across all other add money transactions
- $5,000 per month/$2,500 per day in cash deposits
- $10,000 per month in Mobile Check Capture transactions
- $2,000 per month in savings and checking account transfers
- $200 per day/$1,000 per month in American Express® Charge or credit cards
Does the Serve® by American Express® Card Help You Build Credit?
Serve® by American Express® does not extend a credit line. As such, it does not report to any credit bureaus or helps you build credit.
How Old Do You Need to be to Get Your Own Serve® by American Express® Card?
You must be at least 18 years old to receive a Serve® American Express® card in most states (19 in some states).
But if the primary account holder is at least 18 years old, they can open subaccounts for teenagers as young as 13 years old.
Bottom Line: Serve® American Express® Review
Serve® by American Express® roughly ties with its progenitor when it comes to features, limits, and the mobile app.
However, it’s more expensive than the former American Express Serve® card, as every tier charges a minimum of $6.95 per month (compared to the previous $1 per month), though two of the three tiers have a way to mitigate monthly charges.
And unless you’re willing to shell out $6.95 for the privilege of free cash reloads, your top-up options are also more limited (and expensive) than the previous version.
That said, by offering three versions of one basic card, Serve® does make it easy to choose what works best for your financial situation.
Plus, with access to AMEX Offers, customer service, and free roadside assistance, some users may find the higher fees worth the price.