Going to the Store for a Prepaid Card? It’s Not So Easy

We hit the streets to find which stores sell prepaid debit cards and their price tag. Here’s what you’ll see on the shelves and why it might be better just to buy online.

Walmart Display of Prepaid Cards
Walmart’s Display of Prepaid Cards

If you’re thinking about heading to the store to buy a prepaid card, you might want to think again. Despite the growing popularity of prepaid cards, they’re not the easiest to find on store shelves. And it’s not easy to find which stores sell which cards or for how much. Until now, that is.

We surveyed more than 30 stores to find which ones sell prepaid cards and how much they charge. Locations surveyed included large discount retailers, convenience stores, pharmacy chains, convenience stores, and payday lenders/check cashing stores. Here’s what we found.

Which Prepaid Cards Are Available in Stores?

There are at least 60 prepaid cards on the market today. While nearly all of them are available online, you’ll find only a fraction of them in stores. Sixteen brands according to our survey.

The cards that we found most commonly available were the Netspend Prepaid Visa and the Green Dot Prepaid Card (Visa, Mastercard, or both). Of the national retail chains that carry prepaid cards, we found the Netspend and Green Dot cards at all of them. A few others were reasonably common. For example, the MyVanilla Prepaid Visa was at seven out of ten national retail chains. We found versions of the American Express Serve card at five.

Others were more scarce. We found the Univision card only at the two dollar stores in our survey. Similarly, prepaid cards that are offered by issuers with retail locations, like the Walmart MoneyCard or Kroger’s 1-2-3 Rewards card, could be found exclusively at their own stores.

The same is true of cards issued by payday lenders, like the U.S. Money Card (offered by Check Into Cash) and the Ace Elite card (offered by Ace Cash Express). Those cards are available exclusively through those lenders, not at any retail or convenience store.

Which Stores Sell Prepaid Cards?

Only a handful of the largest retail chains sell prepaid cards in stores. Of the major big-box discount retailers, only Walmart carries reloadable prepaid debit cards. Target and Costco don’t.

Of the convenience store chains, Speedway and 7-11 sell prepaid cards. But you won’t find any at BP, Turkey Hill, or any independent mom and pop store. We found very few prepaid cards on the shelves at one of the two Circle K stores included in our search. But according to one location, they are being discontinued.

Among the stores that sell them, the selection is limited. Walmart carries only seven different prepaid cards. Kroger supermarkets stock only three, including their 1-2-3 Rewards Card.

Although the payday lenders included frequently offer cash reload services for many prepaid cards, none of those in our survey sold more than one card brand.

We found the largest selection at Family Dollar and Dollar General. Each offered 11 different prepaid cards.

The following table shows the prepaid cards that are offered in brick and mortar stores and the retailers and payday lenders that have them.

Prepaid Cards Sold In Stores
Stores/Payday LendersPrepaid Cards Sold
WalmartWalmart MoneyCard, Netspend, Green Dot Visa, AMEX Serve Cash Back, AMEX Serve Free Reloads, Bluebird, MyVanilla
WalgreensNetspend, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, AMEX Serve Cash Back, AMEX Serve Free Reloads, MyVanilla
CVSNetspend, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, AMEX Serve Cash Back, AMEX Serve Free Reloads, MyVanilla
Rite AidNetspend, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, AMEX Serve, AMEX Serve Cash Back, AMEX Serve Free Reloads, MyVanilla
Family DollarNetspend, PayPal, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, AMEX Serve Cash Back, AMEX Serve Free Reloads, MyVanilla, Western Union, Univision
Dollar GeneralNetspend, PayPal, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, AMEX Serve Cash Back, AMEX Serve Free Reloads, MyVanilla, Western Union, Green Dot NASCAR
SpeedwayNetspend, PayPal, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, MyVanilla
7-11Netspend, PayPal, Green Dot Visa, Green Dot Cash Back, MyVanilla
KrogerNetspend, Green Dot Visa, 1-2-3 Rewards Prepaid Card
Check Into CashU.S. Money
CheckSmartInsight Visa
Check ‘n Go, Advance AmericaNetspend

Limited Selection and Out of Stock

Walgreens Out of Stock Cards

Even among the chains that carry prepaid cards, locations within the same chain frequently were out of stock for more than one card sold by the chain.

Take Walmart. The first store of the three that we visited had only four of the seven brands generally carried by Walmart. The second store had no prepaid cards other than the Walmart MoneyCard. Only one of the three had all seven brands of prepaid cards in stock.

That inconsistency carried through most store chains to some degree.

Walgreens was the worst on this front. All three locations that we visited were out of at least three of the seven prepaid cards that they sold. Other stores, like Family Dollar and Dollar General, were missing one or more brands at a given location.

Purchase Price Varies Among Cards, but Little Among Stores

The purchase price for prepaid cards in stores ranges from $0 to $5.95.

The highest priced card was the U.S. Money card, available only at Check Into Cash locations.

The lowest priced cards were two of the American Express Serve cards–Free Reloads and Cash Back versions. But those free cards were available at only one chain–CVS. Other stores offered the same cards for $1.95 to $2.95.

Other than the two American Express Serve cards, prepaid cards were priced about the same across all store chains. All stores  charged nearly the same purchase price for Netspend, Green Dot, PayPal, and Western Union cards.

Other than Check Into Cash, the payday lenders don’t charge any purchase fee for the one prepaid card that they sell. They do, however, require a minimum initial cash load. And they charge for that, from $2 to $5.

Except for the Walmart MoneyCard and the U.S. Money Visa, however, all of the cards sold in stores are available for free online.

Prepaid Card Prices in Stores
Prepaid CardStore PriceStoresOnline Price
Walmart MoneyCard$1.00Walmart$1
Netspend Visa$2.94Walmart$0
$2.95Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Speedway, 7-11, Kroger
PayPal Prepaid Mastercard$2.95Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Speedway, 7-11$0
Green Dot Visa$1.95Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Speedway, 7-11$0
$2.95Kroger
Green Dot Cash Back$1.95Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar, Speedway, 7-11$0
American Express Serve$2.95Walgreens$0
AMEX Serve Cash Back/Free Reloads$0CVS$0
$1.95Walmart
$2.95Walgreens, Rite Aid, Dollar General, Family Dollar
MyVanilla Visa$2.95Dollar General, Family Dollar$0
$3.95Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid, Speedway, 7-11
Western Union Mastercard$2.95Dollar General, Family Dollar$0
Univision Mastercard$3.95Family Dollar$0
Green Dot NASCAR Card$1.00Dollar GeneralNot Available Online
1-2-3 Rewards Card$1.50Kroger$0
Bluebird by American Express$5.00Walmart$0

Why It Still May Be Better to Buy Online

Nearly all prepaid cards sold in stores can be purchased online. And that may be the better option. The lack of a consistent stock of cards across store locations means you may have trouble finding the card you. So, you could end up driving to more than one store.

And the limited selection in stores means you may not be getting the best card for you. Our recent survey of millennial prepaid card users bears that out. Those that bought their cards in stores were more likely to be dissatisfied with their card’s fees than those that bought online. Perhaps that’s because buying online makes it easier to compare prepaid cards across more options.

Plus, it’s cheaper to buy online. Most cards that cost $2-5 in stores are free to purchase online.

And the cards that you buy in stores are temporary cards so they have limited functionality. They can be used for purchases right away, but they can’t be reloaded or used to get cash until you register the card online and get a personalized card. That’s pretty much the same process as buying it online to begin with.

Finally, the cards that you buy in stores aren’t protected by FDIC insurance or Visa and Mastercard’s fraud protections. Those benefits are available only to cards that you register online.