We’ve reviewed and ranked the best prepaid debit cards for teens in 2018. Here are all the details, including the features, fees, and limits important to parents and teens.
For teens, prepaid debit cards can provide an easy way to track and manage their money. They also offer the convenience and security of making purchases, just like using a credit card or checking account debit card.
For parents, providing their teens with a prepaid card can act as a gentle introduction to money management and financial independence while still allowing for some parental oversight. For both teens and parents, making the best choice among prepaid card offerings requires being informed about the differences. We’ve researched the options to provide you with that information.
In making our recommendations, we’ve looked at prepaid cards that are specifically marketed as prepaid cards for teens. But we’ve also looked at other cards that provide features that make them a good fit for teens or students.
In ranking the cards, we’ve evaluated (1) convenience, (2) parental controls, (3) additional features that would be useful to parents and teens, (4) card limits, such as card balance and spending limits, and of course, (5) fees to use the card.
Best Reloadable Prepaid Debit Cards for Teens
FamZoo Prepaid Card
The features of the FamZoo prepaid card demonstrate a thoughtful approach to the money-management needs of families with teens. It offers educational tools to help teens develop good habits. Those features, along with its low cost, is why it tops our list of the Best Prepaid Cards for Teens.
With FamZoo, parents can set up automatic transfers from their primary card to their teen’s card for things like allowance. Alternatively (or in addition), parents can tie incentives directly to chores or other behaviors they want to encourage. They can even charge their teens a penalty for incomplete chores (ouch!) or put their teen’s account on hold altogether (double ouch!).
For teens, FamZoo provides the ability to set savings goals and allows parents to reward savings by paying interest or even matching funds. Teens also benefit from receiving transfers from their parents’ card instantly and being able to request reimbursement from their parents for things like school fees that they’ve advanced.
The cost of the FamZoo prepaid card depends on how you pay. For a month-to-month subscription, FamZoo charges a monthly fee of $5.99 for up to four cards, including the primary (or parent) card. This fee drops to $3.33 for a 12-month subscription, paid annually, and even lower to $2.50 per month for a 2-year subscription.
FamZoo offers a number of free methods to load funds on the card, including direct deposit. There are no purchase fees. And ATM withdrawals are free at any one of MoneyPass’s 24,000 ATMs.
FamZoo offers a 30-day free trial allowing parents to take it for a spin before making any commitment.
Here are the details:
Convenience: Account control through web access or mobile phone Apps for Apple and Android, direct deposit and other free reload options, MoneyPass ATM Network, broad payment acceptance with the Mastercard network
Parental Controls: Total control of deposits to teen cards, real-time monitoring of spending, ability to suspend teen card use
Additional Features: Budgeting tools, ability to set savings goals and even award interest, incentives (and penalties) to reinforce good habits, instant transfers between family cards, reimbursement requests, all through the mobile app or online
Limits: $5,000 total card balance and spending limit up to the full balance of the (primary) card.
Fees: Monthly fee as little as $.63 per card ($2.50 per month for 4 cards with a two-year subscription). Free transactions, no activation fee, free ATM in-network withdrawals. Direct deposit, bank transfers and some other reload options are free.
American Express Serve®
American Express has long offered one of the lowest cost prepaid cards available with its American Express Serve®. It’s low fee structure, along with the ability of Serve users to create up to 5 subaccounts makes it our second choice for Best Prepaid Cards for Teens.
American Express provides three different versions of the Serve card–the basic American Express Serve, American Express Serve FREE Reloads, and American Express Serve Cash Back. All three versions offer the same subaccount features, but differ in fees.
The basic Serve card charges only $1 per month for the primary card with no additional monthly fees for the subaccounts. There is no activation fee and ATM withdrawals are free through the MoneyPass network. The Serve card offers free reload options through direct deposit, in-app check deposits (although those take up to 10 days), and transfers from a bank account (your bank may still charge a fee). The Free Reloads card charges a monthly fee of $4.95 for the primary account but offers a large network of free cash reload options through retailers like Walmart and CVS.
Parents remain in control of all funds that go to the subaccounts and have real-time access to monitor spending on their teen’s cards. Teens have anytime access to their balances through the mobile app.
While the American Express Serve prepaid card provides all of the basic features to be an effective prepaid card option for families with teens, it lacks the additional savings, budgeting, and incentive features that parents and their teens might find important. Although American Express is widely accepted, Serve cardholders will still occasionally run into the retailer that accepts only Visa and Mastercard.
Here are the details:
Convenience: Account control through web access or mobile phone Apps for Apple and Android, Direct Deposit, MoneyPass ATM Network, but has the more limited American Express network and fewer free reload options than the FamZoo card
Parental Controls: Total control of deposits to teen cards, real-time monitoring of spending. However, no ability to temporarily suspend teen card use.
Additional Features: Beyond the basics of setting up subaccounts, it lacks many additional features such as budgeting tools, savings targets or incentives for teens and their parents.
Limits: Generous limits of up to $100,000 for the total primary card balance and $15,000 per month spending adds value for parents using Serve as their primary spending card, but adds little additional value for its use as a card for teens compared to the other lower limit cards on the list.
Fees: Monthly fee of $1 for the primary card with no additional fees for the subaccount cards for teens. Direct deposits and bank transfers are free, but reload fees to add cash at retailers can be up to $3.95. The American Express Serve FREE Reloads offers the additional benefit of thousands of free reload retail locations, but with a higher monthly fee of $4.95. Free transactions, no activation fee, free ATM in-network withdrawals.
Current Prepaid Visa Card
The Current prepaid card is a newer offering specifically targeting families with teens. It shows. The features of the Current Prepaid Visa Card would make it a contender for our top pick, but the lack of a free ATM network for fee-free withdrawals and lack of FDIC insurance for the account puts Current in third place.
Current provides parents with a number of tools to manage their teens’ accounts. Like FamZoo, Current allows parents to schedule automatic transfers to their teens’ cards, attach payments to specific chores or other tasks, get real time access to spending information, and temporarily suspend a teen card.
Although Current doesn’t have the FamZoo feature of recovering “penalty” amounts from the teen cards, it does have a unique feature that we particularly liked–the ability to block or limit spending at certain stores or even certain categories. That means parents can preempt purchases that they don’t consider appropriate for their teen rather than address them after the fact.
Teens can use Current’s mobile app to see balances, track spending, and set savings goals. They can even use the app to donate to directly to charity.
Current’s card balance limit is plenty adequate at $10,000. The daily spending limit is the lowest of the cards on the list–$2,000. Adequate for teen cards to be sure, but worth noting if Current will also be used as the parents’ primary spending card.
The Current prepaid card has no activation fee with a monthly fee of $3 for the first teen card. Additional cards carry an additional $1 monthly fee per card. Current doesn’t provide a month-to-month subscription. The monthly fee is billed annually. There are no transaction charges, and Current doesn’t charge any ATM fees. However, it doesn’t have a free ATM network, so ATM withdrawals are still subject to the ATM operator’s charges.
Like FamZoo, Current offers a free 30-day trial to check it out.
Here are the details:
Convenience: Account control through web access or mobile phone Apps for Apple and Android, direct deposit and bank transfers, broad payment acceptance with the Visa network
Parental Controls: Total control of deposits to teen cards, real-time monitoring of spending, ability to suspend teen card use, and ability to block spending by store or category
Additional Features: Ability to set savings goals, set incentives to reinforce good habits, and instant transfers between family cards, all through the mobile app or online
Limits: $10,000 total card balance and spending limit of $2,000 per day.
Fees: Monthly fee of $3 for the first card and $1 for each additional card, billed annually with a yearly subscription. Free transactions and no activation fee. No charges by Current for ATM transactions, but subject to ATM operator fees. Direct deposit and bank transfers are free.
AkimboTM Prepaid Mastercard
Akimbo describes its Prepaid Mastercard as both a budgeting card and a card for teens. The AkimboTM Prepaid Mastercard can be used for either or both. With its $0 monthly fee and its budgeting and savings features, it ranks fourth on our list. It doesn’t rank higher because Akimbo doesn’t offer a free ATM network, which for some means that the costs could be higher than the other options on the list. ATM fees also mean the cost of using the card is less predictable. Teen cardholders may show less restraint in the number of trips to the ATM.
The Akimbo prepaid card has some similar features to the FamZoo and Current cards. It allows parents to set up automatic transfers to their teen’s card for allowance and provides real time text alerts to monitor spending. The Akimbo card also allows parents to transfer money back from the teen card–something like the “penalty” in the FamZoo card. Parents can even suspend the teen cards. Good features, but less tied to the types of clear incentives that FamZoo or Current provide.
While the Akimbo prepaid card does not have a monthly fee, it does have a one-time activation fee of $4.95. The first subaccount is free. Additional subaccounts have their own $4.95 activation fee per card. As noted, Akimbo charges a fee for ATM withdrawals–$1.98. Without a free ATM network, those ATM withdrawals may also be subject to fees by the ATM operator. Signature purchases (when you select credit as your method of payment at the register) are free. PIN purchases cost $.99. Again, for the most part, you can avoid that fee by selecting credit versus debit at the register.
Although there are a couple of important fees, Akimbo can be a reasonably-priced prepaid debit card for teens. And it has most features that make it a reasonable choice for parents.
Here are the details:
Convenience: Account control through web access or mobile phone Apps for Apple and Android, Direct Deposit, Widely accepted Mastercard network. However, no free ATM network means you have to consider, and control, how the card is used to make this a cost-effective choice.
Parental Controls: Total control of deposits to teen cards, real-time monitoring of spending, ability to suspend use of teen cards, and make transfers back from those cards.
Additional Features: Akimbo provides budgeting capabilities through using multiple subaccounts for specific needs in addition to using subaccounts for teens.
Limits: The card balance limit is plenty adequate for most parents at $9,999. The spending limit is $2,500 per day–certainly sufficient for everyday spending for parents and teens, but lower than the other choices on the list. This might be a factor for the occasional big purchase if you use the Akimbo card as your primary spending card.
Fees: No monthly fee for the primary account or subaccounts. A one-time activation fee of $4.95 for the primary account which includes one free subaccount. Additional cards are $4.95 each. Direct deposits and bank transfers are free, but reload fees to add cash at can be up to $5.00 (at Mastercard rePower and Green Dot Reload @ the Register™ locations). Free signature transactions, but PIN transactions are $.99. No free ATM network–they cost $1.98 plus any ATM operator fees.
The Basics of Prepaid Debit Cards
If you are new to reloadable prepaid debit cards, here’s a brief summary of their features and benefits.
What are Prepaid Debit Cards?
Prepaid debit cards are similar to checking account debit cards, except there is no checking account associated with the card. So, instead of depositing funds into a checking account, prepaid debit card users deposit or “load” funds onto the card. Similar to checking account debit cards, prepaid card users can withdraw or spend the funds on the card. Prepaid debit cards, like checking account debit cards or credit cards, are associated with one of the payment networks–Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or (way less often), Discover. So, they’re accepted for payment anywhere their equivalent checking account debit cards are.
Unlike credit cards, prepaid cards don’t require a credit check and don’t require credit qualifications to get the card. In the same respect, prepaid cards don’t build credit. Prepaid card users don’t incur debt when they use the card for purchases, and they can’t spend more than their balance on the card.
What are Prepaid Debit Cards for Teens?
Prepaid Debit Cards for Teens are largely the same as any prepaid debit card. Teens can use the card for spending in the same way. However, prepaid cards for teens are different in two primary ways. First, the card can be issued to and used by a minor (usually at least 13 years old). Most prepaid cards can’t. Second, a teen prepaid card is generally a “subaccount” of the primary prepaid debit card account. The primary account belongs to the parent. That gives the parent control over the funds that are loaded on the teen card and oversight on the spending from the card. Teens still receive their own card with their name with its own balance. They can be use it for spending and ATM withdrawals the same as the primary card. But they’re limited to the balance in their subaccount.
Why Consider a Teen Prepaid Card?
Teens have money. Teens spend money. Enter the choice. The good news is that parents and teens have several choices in managing money and spending.
Of course, teens can just use cash. But cash is more likely to be lost or stolen, and not surprisingly, most teens make purchases online–68% as of 2016. So, for most teens, cash won’t cut it in 2018. Prepaid debit cards are safer to carry. Visa, Mastercard and the other payment networks provide protection against fraud and unauthorized purchases. And teens can use prepaid cards for online purchases.
A separate checking account with a debit card can be a good option, particularly for teens that have a job. However, low balance bank accounts can actually have more fees than prepaid cards–particularly those in our list. Checking accounts can also increase the risk of overdrawing the account–a risk that might be greater with teens. Overdrawing a checking account can be a costly proposition. Often banks charge up to $35 for overdrawing the account. And they tack on a daily charge of $2-5 until the account balance is positive. Prepaid cards can’t be overdrawn. Users can only spend what they’ve loaded on the card.
Credit cards are an option for older teens–some options are available for 16-18 year olds. Of course, those cards require parents to open the accounts. As a result, parents’ credit is exposed to the risk of their teens failing to pay the monthly payment. Some parents object to teens using credit cards on principal. A credit card can teach teens and young adults that their spending can be funded with high-interest debt. Not a great lesson for responsible money management. Prepaid cards can help reinforce the idea of spending only what you have.
The Bottom Line
Today’s prepaid debit cards for teens offer families a viable financial management tool for parents and teens. We’ve provided our best recommendations with all the details. Now, as we parents like to tell our teens, make good choices.
Best Prepaid Cards for Teens–The List
|Prepaid Card||Activation Fee||Monthly Fee|
|1||FamZoo Prepaid Card||$0||$2.50|
|2||American Express Serve®||$0||$1|
|3||Current Prepaid Visa Card||$0||$3|
|4||AkimboTM Prepaid Mastercard||$0||$0|