The Ultimate Guide to Credit Cards
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Prepaid Cards With No Activation Fee in 2021

Prepaid Cards With No Activation Fee

credit card advice

Aaron Crowe
By: Aaron Crowe
Posted: November 10, 2021
Advertiser Disclosure

Prepaid cards with no activation fee can make online purchasing easier if you don’t have good enough credit to qualify for a credit card. They’re also a lot safer to carry around than cash.

A prepaid card requires a cash reload to fund it and can be used wherever a credit card or debit card can be used. Though sometimes referred to as a prepaid credit card, there is no line of credit associated with a prepaid card. It works more like a debit card by transferring cash from your card account to the merchant you’re paying, whether online or in person.

Best Prepaid Cards With No Activation Fees

Companies that sell prepaid cards don’t make money by charging interest, as credit cards do, but through a variety of fees, including an activation fee. The fee often isn’t charged when you sign up for a prepaid card online, but buyers may face a small activation fee when purchasing them in a store.

Here are some of the best prepaid cards we recommend that don’t charge activation fees when you sign up for them online:

Brinks Prepaid Mastercard Review

at Netspend’ssecure website

  • Brink’s gives you the peace of mind you deserve. Securing cash and valuables since 1859.
  • With Brink’s Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster* than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Brink’s Money Prepaid Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply.)
  • *Card issued by Republic Bank & Trust Company, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Mastercard Debit cards are accepted. “Apply Now” for full details.
  • See additional Brink’s Prepaid Mastercard® Details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fees
Not applicable

The Brinks Prepaid Mastercard is one of our top prepaid cards for many reasons. The online application is easy to fill out, and the card can be funded with a direct deposit from your employer or through government benefits. 

This reloadable prepaid card also offers Payback Points that are earned when you use the card for signature purchase transactions, which is when you select credit instead of debit at the checkout terminal. Points can be redeemed for credit to the Brinks card account.

PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® Review

at Netspend’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • Move money from your PayPal account to fund your prepaid card account.
  • Earn cash back and personalized offers, just for using your card.
  • With Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • Card issued by The Bancorp Bank, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Debit Mastercard is accepted.
  • Click PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® for additional features & program details, and to request a Card.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
Not applicable

If you don’t have a checking account, debit card, or credit card, the PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® may be a good way to do some of your banking if you have a PayPal account. 

You can connect your PayPal account to transfer money to the card account. You can also add cash to the account at nationwide reload locations.

NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • No Overdraft Fees on purchases using your card.
  • Use the NetSpend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. Click “Get My Card” for full details.
  • See additional NetSpend® Prepaid Visa® details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Variable Monthly Fee
Not applicable

You can load the NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card with cash in a few ways, including through a direct deposit of your employment or benefits checks, and get paid up to two days faster. 

You can also perform mobile check deposits to your card account by taking a few photos with your phone through the Netspend mobile app.

Playcard Prepaid Mastercard Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.8

OVERALL RATING

4.5/5.0
  • Enjoy online gaming? Get PlayCard and Stay in the Action.
  • Separate your fun money from your budget.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • Use the Playcard Mobile App to manage your Card Account on the go and enroll to get text messages or email alerts. (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Card use is subject to activation and ID verification. Terms and Costs Apply.
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, N.A., Member FDIC.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

Bettors may want the Playcard Prepaid Mastercard, which can be used at most casinos, online betting sites, and fantasy sports sites. The account, which can be accessed through the Playcard Mobile App, can separate your “fun money” from your budget, making it easier to know what you’re spending on gambling and online gaming.

NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card Review

at Netspend’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.7

OVERALL RATING

3.6/5.0
  • With Netspend Direct Deposit, you can get paid faster than a paper check.
  • No late fees or interest charges because this is not a credit card.
  • No Overdraft Fees on purchases using your card.
  • Use the NetSpend Mobile App to manage your account on the go and get text message or email alerts (Message & data rates may apply).
  • Card issued by MetaBank®, Member FDIC. Card may be used everywhere Visa Debit cards are accepted. Click “Get My Card ” for full details.
  • See additional NetSpend® Prepaid Visa® details.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
Up-to $9.95 monthly
Not applicable

The NetSpend® Visa® Prepaid Card offers Payback Rewards for purchases made with select merchants. It’s an optional program, and reward offers are based on individual shopping habits. Cash back rewards are credited to the card account and are not available in a check or other direct payment method.

Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.6

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Get your paycheck up to 2 days faster with free direct deposit
  • Shop with added confidence and Purchase Protection, which can help protect eligible purchases made with the card against accidental damage and theft for up to 120 days from the date of purchase
  • Get free ATM access at over 30,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations. It’s free to add cash at Walmart, and free to transfer money to other Bluebird Accountholders.
  • With Roadside Assistance, you can call us in case of emergency for coordination and assistance services to help you get on your way
  • You’ll have 24/7 access to world-class American Express Customer Service
  • Pay no monthly fees or foreign transaction fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

The Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account charges the fewest fees among prepaid cards we’ve found. This American Express debit card doesn’t charge an activation fee when bought online. It also doesn’t charge a monthly fee or an ATM fee at MoneyPass ATMs. 

Some prepaid cards charge a transaction fee each time you use the card to buy something, but this American Express prepaid card doesn’t.

The Mango Prepaid Mastercard® Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.6

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Mango is a safe and convenient way to manage and access your money when and where you need it
  • The Mango Card is a prepaid card account and there are no hidden fees or interest charges. See your Cardholder Agreement for fees and details.
  • You can use your Mango Card everywhere debit Mastercard is accepted
  • Manage your account anywhere you are. Securely check your balance, transaction history, and send money to friends and family.
  • Once you activate and load your Mango Card, you can open a Savings Account with as little as $25 and get up to 6.00% Annual Percentage Yield with up to 6 transfers out each month
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

The Mango Prepaid Mastercard® is one of the rare prepaid cards that connects users with an optional savings account. Once your Mango prepaid card is activated and loaded with money, you can open a savings account through Mango and get up to six transfers out of the account each month.

Serve® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.6

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Enjoy FREE withdrawals at over 30,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations nationwide. You can also use non MoneyPass® ATMs, but fees may apply
  • Get access to your money up to 2 days faster with early Direct Deposit
  • No monthly fee when you direct deposit $500 or more within a statement period
  • Use Online Bill Pay to help you save time and help you avoid late fees. Terms apply.
  • Check your balance and recent transactions, pay bills on the go, get SMS text alerts, and send money to family or friends who have a Serve Account
  • No credit check, no hidden fees
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

A monthly fee is a common way for prepaid card companies to make money. The Serve® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account lets users avoid paying a monthly fee when they initiate a direct deposit of $500 or more each statement period. This prepaid debit card can be used wherever American Express is accepted.

Serve® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.6

OVERALL RATING

3.8/5.0
  • Get rewarded with unlimited 1% Cash Back when you spend money in stores or online. The funds are available to add to your Account as soon as the transaction settles with us, so you don’t have to wait to enjoy the rewards.
  • You can withdraw your money without a fee at over 30,000 MoneyPass® ATM locations nationwide.
  • Can’t find your Serve card? No need to worry – you can quickly freeze it while you look for it and unfreeze it when you find it. And for extra reassurance, know you won’t be held responsible for fraudulent charges.
  • With Emergency Assistance, you can get select access to select emergency coordination and assistance services when you’re traveling more than 100 miles from home.
  • Amex Offers provide a range of offers – shopping, dining and more – from places you love. It’s easy and free.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

This Serve® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account is for people who want to earn cash back rewards with their prepaid card. The cash back is added to their account promptly after making a purchase online or in-store and is ready to spend on future purchases when they choose.

Greenlight Debit Card Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.5

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • Greenlight is a debit card for kids, managed by parents.
  • Parents set flexible controls and receive real-time alerts while kids monitor their balances, set goals, and learn how to manage money.
  • Receive Mastercard’s Zero Liability Protection.
  • Debit cards are FDIC-insured up to $250,000.
  • Easily turn your Greenlight card on or off and receive real-time spending notifications.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
See Pricing
Not applicable

The Greenlight Debit Card is a debit card for children that’s managed by their parents. There is no activation fee, ATM withdrawal fee (whether in or out of its ATM network), or per-transaction fee, but it does charge a monthly fee. The only other fees we can find for this card are to customize or replace the card.

Walmart MoneyCard Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★★

4.5

OVERALL RATING

4.0/5.0
  • Earn 3% cash back at Walmart.com, 2% cash back at Walmart fuel stations, & 1% Cash Back at Walmart stores, up to $75 each year.
  • Get up to $200 overdraft protection with opt-in & eligible direct deposit. Plus, waive your monthly fee when you have a qualifying direct deposit of $500 or more each month.
  • Get your pay up to 2 days before payday & your benefits up to 4 days before benefits day with ASAP Direct Deposit™.
  • Order an account for free for up to 4 additional approved members ages 13+, in the app, with your activated, personalized card. Perfect for teens or other family members to manage their money.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

The Walmart MoneyCard offers cash back in a few ways, with the biggest payout for purchases made on the Walmart website. It also pays cash back at Walmart gas stations and in its stores. 

It offers overdraft protection when you have a direct deposit set up to the account so you can avoid overdraft fees on the card. The monthly fee is waived when you have $500 or more deposited into the account each month.

BusyKid Visa® Prepaid Spend Debit Card Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★

4.4

OVERALL RATING

4.1/5.0
  • A BusyKid Visa® Debit Card provides the opportunity for anyone to receive hands-on experience managing money
  • Given it’s backed by the trusted name of Visa®, the BusyKid Spend Card is widely accepted in stores and online
  • Your busy kid(s) will be able to get used to having a debit card in their pocket for in-store and online purchases. They will learn responsible spending in our nearly cashless society.
  • Get 1 free BusyKid Card when you enroll in BusyKid today!
  • BusyPay™, the newest BusyKid feature, is an easy way for family or friends to instantly send money to a child’s BusyKid account
  • Choose from a variety of card designs to find which fits your busy kid best
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
See Pricing
None

The BusyKid Visa® Prepaid Spend Debit Card is a Visa debit card meant to help children learn how to make in-store and online purchases and learn responsible spending habits. This Visa card charges an annual fee instead of a monthly fee. Parents can control how much of their kids’ allowance goes on the card and track their Visa debit transactions.

ACE Elite™ Visa® Prepaid Debit Card Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★

4.4

OVERALL RATING

3.2/5.0
  • Manage and control your money on one convenient reloadable prepaid card
  • Get paid up to 2 days faster with direct deposit
  • No-fee cash withdraws of up to $100  per day at participating ACE locations when you have regular direct deposit activity
  • Payback RewardsSM pays you back for many of your everyday purchases – the more you use your card, the more offers at select retailers and restaurants you are eligible to redeem
  • Choose from 3 card designs
  • As a cardholder, you can open an Optional Tiered Rate Savings Account. Balances up to $1,000.00 currently earn up to 5.00% annual percentage yield. No minimum balance required.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
Not applicable

The ACE Elite™ Visa® Prepaid Debit Card allows no-fee cash withdrawals of up to $100 per day at participating ACE locations with qualifying direct deposit. It also has an optional savings account to earn interest on. This Visa debit card doesn’t charge a fee for opening a card online, but it does charge a fee if you buy one at a store. 

Travelex Money Card Mastercard® Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★

4.2

OVERALL RATING

3.5/5.0
  • Use Mastercard Prepaid Travel Cards wherever Mastercard debit is accepted––at hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, ATMs, and more
  • A great alternative to cash and traveler’s checks, prepaid travel cards let you lock in rates before you travel internationally
  • Since you control the amount that’s on your card, use a prepaid travel card to help manage your spending and stay within budget
  • Zero Liability Protection keeps you safe from unauthorized purchases if your card is lost or stolen after it’s been registered
  • With your Mastercard Prepaid Travel Card, you can check your balance, account information, and transaction history online or by phone from anywhere in the world
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
See Pricing
Not applicable

The Travelex Money Card Mastercard® provides another way — other than cash or traveler’s checks — to pay for hotels, restaurants, and other needs when traveling abroad. After you register this debit Mastercard, it protects against unauthorized transactions if the card is lost or stolen.

FamZoo Prepaid Mastercard Review

at the issuer’ssecure website

PREPAID RATING

★★★★

4.0

OVERALL RATING

3.7/5.0
  • Great for families who wish to store money on multiple prepaid cards linked together
  • No risk of debt, overdraft, or hidden fees
  • Retain parental visibility and control while empowering kids of all ages
  • Separate funds into multiple purpose-driven accounts
  • Alert parents and children about card activity and the remaining balance in real time
  • A paid FamZoo subscription entitles you to use all of the active prepaid cards in your FamZoo family for as long as your subscription remains active. Adding family members and adding cards does not impact your subscription fee.
Intro (Purchases)
Intro (Transfers)
Regular APR
Annual Fee
Credit Needed
N/A
N/A
N/A
See Pricing
Not applicable

The FamZoo Prepaid Mastercard is another debit Mastercard that helps kids learn how to use money and is aimed at all ages, from preschool through college. Families can pay a monthly fee for the debit card or pay six, 12, or 24 months in advance for a discount.

What Is a Prepaid Card With No Activation Fee?

A prepaid card looks like a credit or debit card but works like a debit card connected to a bank account. You add money to the card through a variety of ways, but it does not have a line of credit like a credit card, nor does it pull money directly out of a checking account, like a debit card.

How to Use a Prepaid Debit Card Graphic

A prepaid card often doesn’t require an activation fee when opening the account online. However, a prepaid debit card bought in a physical store will usually require you to pay an activation fee. 

Prepaid cards carry Visa, Mastercard, and American Express logos. You can use prepaid cards at most of the same places you can use credit cards. 

A prepaid card works like a gift card in one respect. A Visa gift card, for example, must first be loaded with funds by the person giving the gift card. The person receiving it can then use the card anywhere Visa is accepted.

How Do I Get a Prepaid Card?

The easiest way to get a prepaid card is online, including through the links in the 15 card reviews above. Prepaid card issuers usually have requirements that are easy to meet, such as being at least 18, providing a Social Security number to verify your identity, and having a valid email address. Other identifying information may be required.

You may be required to register the card online after you receive it in the mail, which helps protect against the card’s loss or theft.

You can fund a prepaid card in a few ways. Since you may not have a checking or other bank account, you can add cash to the card through a PayPal account for the PayPal Prepaid Mastercard® or arrange a direct deposit of your paycheck or government benefits.

You can add money to the Bluebird® American Express® Prepaid Debit Account at any Walmart checkout register without paying fees.

Some prepaid cards have mobile apps to scan a check and deposit it to the card. Some banks offer prepaid cards, which you can load with cash by walking into a branch and giving the teller money.

When shopping for a prepaid card, read the cardholder agreement for ways it accepts reloads and what the fees are for each method.

What Are the Advantages of Using a Prepaid Card?

The biggest advantage of prepaid cards for the unbanked, who number more than 6% of U.S. households, is that they allow people to have a prepaid card that they can use like a credit card or debit card without a bank account. 

It also prevents them from having to carry around cash or deal with expensive money orders or other costly ways to manage their finances.

Chart comparing unsecured, secured, and prepaid cards.

Most prepaid cards allow you to withdraw cash from an ATM, though an ATM withdrawal fee may be charged. 

Prepaid cards often allow direct deposit, and many say they can shave two days off the time it takes to receive your money from a physical check.

Some prepaid cards offer savings accounts, cash back rewards, and apps to help you manage your money. Some don’t charge a foreign transaction fee, which is good to avoid when using the card in another country.

A reloadable prepaid card can also help you better track your spending than you could by paying with cash. The cards make it easier to shop online and can help teach you to live without debt because you can only use them when you have an available balance.

Is a Prepaid Card Free to Use?

No. All prepaid cards charge fees of some kind. Why? Because the card issuers don’t make money on interest as they would with a credit card. 

Instead, they charge fees either for every transaction or a flat monthly fee. Some charge an annual fee that lowers the monthly cost. You’ll be charged a purchase fee if you buy a card at a physical store, though it’s often free when you sign up for a card on the card provider’s website.

You may be charged a fee if you spend more than your available balance, but some cards provide a purchase cushion to help prevent this fee. Card issuers may waive the reload fee if you have direct deposit set up. Other common fees include an ATM fee, inactivity fee, and a purchase fee. 

Do Prepaid Cards Help Build Credit?

No, prepaid cards don’t help build your credit score nor do they hurt it. 

A check of your credit history isn’t required to get a prepaid card. The issuers of prepaid cards don’t report your account activity to the major credit bureaus because you’re not using credit with a prepaid card.

Credit bureau logos
Prepaid card issuers do not report accounts to the major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — which means a prepaid card cannot help you build credit.

Instead, you’re using your cash through a prepaid debit card. You’re incurring no debt with the card.

Best Choices For Prepaid Cards With No Activation Fee

Prepaid cards with no activation fee provide a way for the unbanked and underbanked to safely access their money without requiring a checking account or a credit card. Prepaid cards can be used wherever credit and debit cards are accepted, including online, but without extending credit like a credit card or being linked to a bank account.

An activation fee is common when opening a prepaid debit card account, though it can usually be avoided by opening an account online. The cards won’t help improve your credit score — check out a secured credit card to help with that — but they should at least make it easier to pay bills and buy things without having to go through a bank.

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CardRates.com is a free online resource that offers valuable content and comparison services to users. To keep this resource 100% free, we receive compensation from many of the offers listed on the site. Along with key review factors, this compensation may impact how and where products appear across the site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). CardRates.com does not include the entire universe of available offers. Editorial opinions expressed on the site are strictly our own and are not provided, endorsed, or approved by advertisers.