Looking for the convenience of a credit card, but not sure your poor-to-fair credit score will qualify you for one? The American Express Bluebird may be the answer. The Bluebird is a prepaid credit card: a financial account that you load money on to use as a substitute for a bank account. Managed by American Express and Wal-Mart, Bluebird promises to offer the benefits of banking without all the fees.
Want to learn more? Read on to hear an overview of what American Express Bluebird has to offer — and what it will cost you.
Eligibility for American Express Bluebird
To qualify for a Bluebird by American Express card, you must be 18 years of age or older. You must also be living in the U.S., and must have a valid social security number.
For family accounts, each member must be at least 13 years of age and living in the U.S.
Signing up for American Express Bluebird
To open a American Express Bluebird account, you can go to a Wal-Mart store near you and buy a $5 setup kit, register online at bluebird.com, or download the mobile app. At Wal-Mart, you will receive a temporary card that you can use right away. When you register online through the website or mobile app, Bluebird will mail your permanent card to your address.
Here’s how to open an American Express Bluebird account online for free.
Visit the website and click “Open an Account.”
Provide your name, email address, and physical address.
Enter your phone number and create a username and password.
Provide your birth date and social security number, and create an ATM pin number.
Choose a security question and provide the answer. Then, read all of the legal terms and click “Agree and Submit.”
Although you provide your SSN, American Express Bluebird will not check your credit. It is only used to verify your identity. After you register, your card will be sent in the mail.
Funding your American Express Bluebird account
There is a $100,000 yearly limit for all American Express Bluebird accounts. You can deposit money into your Bluebird account in the following ways:
- Transfer up to $2,000 per month from your bank account (this transfer will process within five business days).
- Transfer $200 per day and up to $1,000 per month from a debit account. This transfer will process immediately.
- Add up to $1,999 per day and $5,000 per month in person at Wal-Mart. Depositing money in person at Wal-Mart is free of charge.
- Add up to $2,500 per day or $5,000 per month at thousands of other locations, i.e. CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Dollar General, etc. Depositing money at non-Wal-Mart locations costs a small fee.
- Deposit up to $5,000 with a check through the Mobile Check Capture feature in the mobile app. This money can be available in three to five minutes or 10 days, depending on the option you choose.
- Set up a direct deposit from your payroll. See below for further details.
Setting up payroll direct deposit
Start by activating your American Express Bluebird account, and confirming that your personalized card is also activated. Make sure that your employer’s payroll department offers direct deposit to a U.S. bank account. You should also confirm that the direct deposit won’t exceed the monthly limits of your card ($5,000). And be sure that the information on your tax forms (especially your Social Security Number) matches the information that Bluebird has on file.
Once you are ready, log in to your online account or Bluebird Mobile App and click “add funds.” Select “set up direct deposit” to view your Bluebird Account number and bank routing number. Print out and complete the Bluebird Direct Deposit Form.
From here, all you have to do is submit the form to your employer! Note that some employers may require you to use their own forms as well.
Using your AMEX Bluebird
Once there are funds in your account, you can use your card to make purchases and pay bills.
You can spend up to $15,000 per month using the Bluebird Card wherever American Express is accepted. You can also use your online account or the mobile app to pay bills to businesses and individuals (though the same $15,000 limit applies).
The only real difference between American Express Bluebird and a bank account are the limits. While disadvantageous if you are looking to spend larger amounts, these limits can be helpful for chronic over-spenders.
You can withdraw up to $750 at a time at any ATM that accepts American Express Cards. MoneyPass ATMs will let you withdraw cash with no fees.
You can also use the money transfer service Ria to withdraw cash from your account and pick it up at any Wal-Mart. Or you can use a pre-authorized Bluebird check to withdraw funds.
One notable missing feature: with American Express Bluebird, you are not able to get cashback from merchants. If you want to pull cash out, you’ll need an ATM, a Bluebird check, or a Ria transfer.
You can transfer up to $2,500 per month using Ria (although Ria charges fees for transfers). If you’re looking to move larger amounts, you can transfer up to $15,000 per month straight into your bank account.
You can receive up to $10,000 per month in person-to-person payments, and can send up to $2,500 per month.
You can manage your account online, using either the American Express Bluebird website or the mobile app. On these platforms, you can view your transaction history, available balance, and statements over the previous two years. You can also check your card balance.
Account holders can add up to four family members to their American Express Bluebird account. The account holder will have control over how much each family account can spend, and where they can spend it.
One user says, “The advantage of Bluebird…is that you can have a ‘family account’ card created for a family member. You can reload that family member card directly from the phone app, anytime, anywhere. You can also reload it by going to any Wal-Mart and adding cash to the Bluebird account at Wal-Mart customer service.”
She adds, “This has been an incredibly useful setup for my son and I. He lives in another state, and I can provide him with spending money in a way that is convenient and painless. Because it’s essentially an Amex card, it is accepted in many places where his regular bank debit card isn’t. Also, it cannot be used to get cash, so it helps family members to be a bit more accountable and able to track their spending, rather than getting cash at an ATM and then using cash.”
Rewards and benefits of AMEX Bluebird
American Express Bluebird members also get the following benefits:
- Amex Offers, a program that offers discounts on select brands or statement credits
- Insights, a tool to manage personal finances
- Purchase protection, which protects purchases against accidental damage or theft for up to 90 days
- Roadside Hotline, a hotline that lets you get AAA-style roadside assistance
- American Express Experiences, offering access to tickets for special events
Let’s start with what won’t cost you. If you open a American Express Bluebird account, you’ll have access to the following features for free:
- Online account management.
- Monthly/yearly services.
- Direct deposit.
- Adding funds from a debit card.
- Adding cash at Wal-Mart.
- Using the Mobile Check Capture and opting for “Money in 10 days.”
- Withdrawing cash at MoneyPass ATMs.
- Online transactions and merchant transactions.
- Bluebird Check transactions.
- Sending money between Bluebird accounts.
- Transferring money to a “Set Aside” account.
- Replacement cards.
- Foreign transactions.
But for the following features, you will have to pay:
- Buying the setup package at Wal-Mart costs $5.
- Adding cash to your account at participating retail locations besides Wal-Mart costs up to $3.95.
- Using Mobile Check Capture and requesting “Money in Minutes” costs from 1 to 5% of the check amount.
- Withdrawing cash from out-of-network ATMs costs $2.50 per withdrawal plus fees from ATM operators.
- Cash pick-up through Ria will cost from $3 to $9, depending on the amount.
Of course, these costs are relatively low, and you can avoid them by opting for the free features.
American Express Bluebird places all funds into custodial accounts at banks insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). If a bank goes bankrupt, the FDIC covers up to $250,000 per depositor. Since your Bluebird account has a $100,000 limit, this means you are protected in full by the FDIC. However, that this only applies to funds you deposit onto a permanent card. It takes one business day for funds to get into the custodial account.
American Express Bluebird account holders get access to 24/7 live customer service through American Express. The Bluebird customer service number for callers within the U.S. is 1(877) 486-5990, and for international callers, it’s 1(801) 449-4016.
The bottom line on American Express Bluebird
The American Express Bluebird has many unique advantages. You can open an account even with poor credit, it comes with very few fees, it has the security you need, and membership benefits many people want.
If you make less than $100,000 per year and are okay with the other limits, this account will likely be an excellent fit for you. While there’s no cashback option, you can pull cash out of ATMs, and there are over 25,000 in-network ATMs as of this writing.
For those whose financial needs exceed the limits, this may work well as a supplement to another account or may not fit your needs.
Compare the pros and cons to make a better decision.
- Easy to get an account, even with poor credit
- Offers the convenience of a credit card
- Low costs
- 24/7 live customer service
- Good security
- The family account is good for sharing money with family members
- American Express is accepted fewer places than Visa or MasterCard
- Cashback is not available
- Fees for using ATMs out-of-network
- Fees for money transfers
- Maximum account limit of $100,000
- Maximum of $100,000 in direct deposits each year
- Limits on other transactions types may be too low
So is a Bluebird account is right for you? As with any financial decision, it’s smart to compare a few options before making a decision.