The Serve Prepaid Debit Card by American Express is an alternative to traditional debit cards and credit cards that can encourage responsible money management. This makes it great for adults and even better for teens. Many parents use this prepaid debit card to give their teens the financial independence they desire with the added protections of a prepaid account.
This product is unlike other debit cards for kids in a few important ways. We’ll go over these as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the Serve Prepaid Debit Card here.
Who’s it For?
Average age: 13-18
Good candidate: teens who are ready for a real checking account that want spending freedom
Features and Benefits
A Serve Prepaid Debit Card is not specifically designed for use by kids and teens. Only users 18 years old or older are eligible to open their own account. However, this prepaid debit card is great for giving teens relative financial independence.
If a parent is getting this card for their child, they need to add a sub account for each child. In order to be added to a sub account, a user must verify that they are at least 13 years old. Parents can add up to four sub accounts to their account.
Please note that Vermont residents are not eligible for this card and that some states require account holders to be 19 years old rather than 18.
Parents are the sole owners and account managers for Serve accounts. This means that they alone are responsible for reloading their kids’ prepaid debit cards from their main funding account.
Most reloads are free and there are many ways to add money to an account. Just a few include direct deposit, ACH transfer, and cash reloads. Please see “How to Sign Up” for a complete list of options for account funding.
Cash reloads at in-network retailers use barcodes to instantly transfer money into an account.
There are several ways parents can control how their teens are able to use their card. They can:
- Set daily spending limits
- Enable or disable Serve card use
- Decide whether to permit or allow international purchases
- Restrict sub account user account access by freezing or closing the account
- Permit or prohibit ATM access
- Enable low balance alerts for themselves
- Enable text alerts for sub account users for low balances and balance updates
All of these changes can be made from the app and reversed at any time.
Primary account holders can also set up to six savings goals for their account. Only account holders are eligible to create these goals, but sub account holders can contribute to them. All goal balances are held separately from the main account and debit card account (meaning users can’t use their Serve cards to spend goal money without transferring it).
To use the money from a goal, the funds need to be transferred from the goal back to the main account. From there, the funds can be added to sub accounts as desired. Parents may choose to set these savings goals for their children to help them learn good habits or contribute to them themselves.
There is no option for parents to reward their kids with bonuses for meeting savings goals or pay interest on money saved built into a Serve account.
Sub account users are not able to fund their accounts themselves. To get more money on their card, they must request money from their parent, the primary account holder.
This debit card can be used almost anywhere American Express is accepted. Although American Express cardholders experienced issues with finding places to accept their cards in the past, increasingly more merchants are adding AmEx to their list of accepted card issuers (in fact, an estimated 99% of merchants accept AmEx).
Sub account holders can use their card online and in-person or withdraw cash from ATMs (if the primary account holder has chosen to allow ATM access). There are over 30,000 MoneyPass ATMs that accept American Express transactions at no cost. Withdrawals from out-of-network ATMs may cost up to $2.50 each. Alternatively, kids can withdraw cash from their Serve account using Cash Pickup Powered by Ria.
Another way it is possible for a sub account user to use their money is through Serve Money Transfer Powered by Ria. Using this feature, sub account holders can send money from their account to another Serve account for domestic cash pickup. All cash pickups can be made at Walmart stores within the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
These Serve cash pickup and money transfer capabilities are available to all Serve account users who have activated their cards. To initiate these transfers, a sub account user must select “Money Out” from their American Express account and select either Serve Cash Pickup or Serve Money Transfer.
These transfers incur fees. Each Serve Money Transfer costs between $4.99 and $16.99, with higher fees assessed on greater transfer balances, and each Serve Cash Pickup costs between $3.49 and $9.49.
It is not possible to overdraw an account. However, users are charged $0.75 every time their card is declined at an ATM, in- or out-of-network (a card may be declined for insufficient funds, exceeding ATM withdrawal limits, or entering a PIN incorrectly). Sub account users may receive low balance alerts to prevent attempts to overdraw if their parents choose this.
Serve users with sub accounts are encouraged to save but are not able to set savings goals for themselves within the app. Serve sub account users may freeze their accounts if they have lost their card or suspect it has been stolen. Both primary account holders and sub account holders may request replacement cards
How Much Does the Serve Prepaid Debit Card Cost?
Fees: no fees for electronic reloads, no fees for cash reloads at in-network retailers, no fees for inactivity, up to $3.95 for cash reloads at out-of-network retailers, $2.50 for out-of-network ATMs
There is a $6.95 monthly fee for all Serve accounts. This is a monthly maintenance fee that is assessed regardless of balance. This fee can be avoided by setting up direct deposits that are equal to at least $500 per month.
Benefits of Serve Over Competitors
There are so many reasons to choose Serve over other options if you’re the parent of a teenager.
The Serve Prepaid Debit Card offers users many more ways to fund their accounts than the average kids’ debit card account. For example, they can set up direct deposit, which many competitors do not allow.
Compared to similar products, the Serve card is inexpensive. There are no subscription fees and besides an avoidable monthly service fee, few charges at all. There are also no per-kid charges to worry about, which is nice for larger families.
The Serve card can also be reloaded with cash at no cost. This action can be done for free at more than 45,000 retailer locations.
Being an American Express customer also has other advantages in general, and these are extended to all Serve users. For example, AmEx cardholders—including Serve users—receive discounts at many retailers and restaurants. You can add specific offers to your American Express account to get the most benefit from this complimentary feature.
Other (free) American Express benefits offered to Serve customers include:
- Roadside Assistance – a dispatch hotline open 24/7
- Purchase Protection –
- Emergency Assistance – 24/7 emergency coordination assistance for medical, financial, and legal emergencies
- American Express Experiences
Though the Serve Prepaid Debit Card is definitely an all-around great option for most, there are a couple of potential disadvantages to be aware of with this product.
For example, this is not strictly a kids’ account. If you are looking for a kids’ debit product that comes with educational resources and a comprehensive platform designed to teach kids financial literacy, the Serve card may not check all of your boxes. This is a fairly standard checking account that doesn’t really attempt to simplify money management, which may be either an advantage or a disadvantage for your family.
Another thing that the Serve card lacks is flexibility for sub account users. To name a few of these limitations: teens cannot fund their own accounts, set their own savings goals, donate or invest their money, or use bill pay features.
Many customers with Serve debit cards speak highly of their experiences with the product. For the vast majority of users, this card is easy to reload and convenient to use. Customer service is said to be generally satisfactory when addressing concerns, but some users have called it inconsistent.
This product has a rating of about 3.7 stars out of 5 on ConsumerAffairs. Most complaints have to do with seemingly random account closures and slow processing times for refunds and deposits. If you do get this card, be aware that these issues exist for some users.
You can reach customer service for Serve users by calling 1-800-954-0559.
Is It Safe?
The Serve American Express Prepaid Debit account is protected by up to $250,000 of FDIC insurance. All accounts are also covered by Fraud Protection that monitors for suspicious activity and dismisses responsibility for unauthorized transactions.
In addition, users are prohibited from using their cards to make purchases that are considered unsafe, such as transactions involving alcohol, tobacco, or gambling.
The Serve Pay Bills Guarantee ensures that you never have to pay late fees on your bills. If a bill does get paid late, American Express covers the charges as long as you submitted payment at least six business days before it was due. You can set up bill pay reminders for your account to avoid this.
How to Sign Up
There are two ways to sign up for a Serve account, if you meet eligibility requirements (18 years old or older in most states, 19 in Alabama and Nebraska): You can register directly online or purchase a temporary Serve card in person at a participating retailer such as Walmart, Dollar General, or Walgreens.
Temporary Serve cards are just reloadable prepaid cards that can be loaded with cash and used at retailers that accept American Express. You must load at least $20 onto the card and may not exceed $500. These do not have checking accounts or online accounts and cannot be used at ATMs.
If you have a temporary Serve card, you can register it online to set up a Serve account. If you choose to register directly online without a temporary card, you will just go online and verify your identity and your Serve card(s) will come in the mail shortly.
Once your account is verified, you can fund it and set up your sub account(s). Every sub account user gets their own card. There are a number of ways to easily fund your account. You can:
- Set up direct deposit to automatically add your or your child’s earnings to the account
- Link an external checking or savings account
- Deposit cash for free at a participating retailer (funds will be available immediately)
- Link a debit card or an American Express credit card
- Deposit a check through the American Express mobile app
- Request money from another Serve account
One nice perk to make note of is that you can get direct deposit funds up to two days faster with a Serve account. Rather than wait for your electronic direct deposit to process automatically, you can get access to your paycheck early if your employer submits payment information to your bank ahead of schedule.
There are many advantages to being a customer with a prestigious bank like American Express, and there are many advantages to the Serve American Express Prepaid Debit Card as well. This account charges fewer fees than many of its competitors and offers many account protections and benefits.
Serve account holders are able to control their sub accounts in a variety of ways, but sub account holders may feel somewhat limited by their options (e.g. no option to set savings goals, invest their money through the app, etc.). With that said, this kid-friendly debit card gives users real-world experiences in a neat package that is easy to navigate.