Complete Guide to Bluebird, Serve, Softserve and Target Redcard

The complete guide to Bluebird, REDcard, Serve, and SoftServe

Bluebird, REDcard, Serve, and Serve with Softcard…  These are prepaid reloadable American Express cards intended to be viable fee-free checking account alternatives.  Even better, they are all good choices for those who primarily want to earn miles and points.  The problem is… each person can have only one.  So, which is best?

The answer to “which card is best?” depends upon your personal situation.  No single card is better than all others for everyone.  However, depending upon your situation, there is almost certainly a best card for you.  In this guide, I’ll give you the information you need to decide which card is best for you.

Overview

The four prepaid cards all run on the same technology platform and they therefore have a lot in common.  They are all prepaid reloadable American Express cards.  This means that, unlike credit cards, you need to load money to these cards before you can use them (although, another option is to setup linked backup funding sources).  Once money is loaded, these cards can be used like American Express credit cards to make purchases, or can be used at ATMs for cash withdrawals, or can be used like a bank account to pay bills.

Bluebird

Bluebird was formed from a collaboration between American Express and Walmart. Even though Serve predated Bluebird, Bluebird was the first prepaid card to be a realistic fee-free checking account alternative.  And, at the time of this writing, Bluebird continues to be the only Amex prepaid product that offers a checkbook for writing checks yourself.

REDcard (Target Prepaid REDcard AKA Redbird)

I am in exploratory phase with REDcard but might switch from serve to here soon. Where Bluebird was formed in collaboration with Walmart, REDcard is with Target.  At the time of this writing, it is only available in specific stores within specific states (found here),   REDcard is unique among these prepaid cards, though, in that it can be reloaded at the Target register with a credit card.  This makes REDcard especially attractive to those who want to earn credit card rewards without the hassles involved in other approaches.

Serve

Serve has been around quite a while and it has changed a lot over time, mostly for the better.  For example, Amex has recently greatly expanded the number of locations in which Serve could be reloaded at the register.  You can now reload Serve with debit cards at both Walmart and Family Dollar, for example (Note: Some readers has found that Family Dollar no longer accepts debit cards for this, but others continue to have success).  You can also reload at the register at CVS, but only with cash.  One of the features that make Serve stand out above Bluebird and REDcard is that it can be loaded online via credit card, up to $1000 per month.  Unfortunately, some credit cards charge cash advance fees for this.  So you should do a trial with small amount and see if your credit card quotes the charge as “sale” or “cash advance”.

Serve with SoftCard (AKA SoftServe)

SoftCard is a system designed to allow people to make in-person payments via their phone.  The system then directs those charges to a linked credit card or prepaid card (Serve).  Once you have SoftCard setup and installed on your smartphone, you can sign up for Serve through the app.  Serve with Softcard, or SoftServe, is virtually identical to regular Serve, but has higher online load limits.  So, for example, instead of loading just $1000 per month with a credit card online, you can load up to $1500 per month with SoftServe.

Which is best for you?

Please read through the comparison tables below to identify the differences between cards that matter the most to you.  For simplicity, though, here are my quick recommendations.

For maximizing rewards:

  • If you want to maximize credit card spend and savings opportunities regardless of thecomplexity involved, then get SoftServe (Serve with Softcard).
  • If you want to maximize credit card spend and savings opportunities, but you do not have (and do not want to get) cell phone hardware and service required for SoftCard, then getServe.
  • If you want the simplest possible option for earning credit card rewards with the lowest possible fees, get the Target Prepaid REDcard.

For convenience and shopping:

  • If you frequently shop at Walmart, get Bluebird.
  • If you frequently shop at Target, get REDcard.
  • If you find yourself often in or near Walmart or Family Dollar, regardless of whether you actually shop at those locations, get Serve or SoftServe.

Comparison Tables

The following tables show each card side by side.  Notable advantages are marked with green backgrounds.  Notable negatives are marked with red backgrounds.

How to get the card

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Order online Y N Y Via SoftCard App
Buy temp card in-store Y
Wal-mart
Y
Select  Target stores
Y
Many stores such as CVS
N
Temp card fee $5 $0 to $5 $0 to $3.95 N/A
Monthly fee $0 $0 $1 (free w/ $500 load) $0

At the time of this writing, there are very few participating Target stores where one can get started with REDcard.   And, SoftServe requires specific phone hardware and service before one can get started.  For those reasons, Bluebird and Serve have a distinct advantage for those eager to get started.

How to reload

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Direct deposit Y Y Y Y
Deposit check (with smart phone app) Y N Y Y
Online debit (not gift cards) Y
Up to $1K / month
Y
Up to $1K / month
Y
Up to $1K / month
Y
Up to $1.5K / month
Online credit N N Y
Up to $1K / month
Y
Up to $1.5K / month
In-store kiosk Y
Wal-mart
N Y
Wal-mart
Y
Wal-mart
In-store debit (including gift cards with PINs) Y
Wal-mart
Y
Target
Y
Walmart, Family Dollar
YWalmart, Family Dollar
In-store credit N Y
Target
N N
Via reload cards Y
Vanilla Reload
N Y
Vanilla Reload, Money-Pak, ReloadIt
Y
Vanilla Reload, Money-Pak, ReloadIt
In-store + reload card limits $5000 per month $5000 per month $5000 per month $5000 per month

If you’re reading this page, you probably want to find the card that is best for earning credit card rewards.  There are several ways this can happen:

  • Online debit loads: use a rewards earning debit card or a debit card that is reloadable with a credit card.  Increasingly, both options are difficult or impossible to find, so this option is of very limited use to most people.  You cannot use gift cards as debit cards for online loads.
  • Online credit loads: This is a great way to earn rewards easily and automatically, but some credit cards charge cash advance fees.  Serve lets you load $1000 a month using credit card but you may want to perform a small trial ($20) and see how the charge goes through (sale or cash advance)
  • In-store debit: Unless you are lucky enough to have a debit card that earns rewards, the trick here is to use your rewards credit card to buy Visa or MasterCard gift cards with PINs, and use those as debit cards to reload your prepaid card.
  • In-store credit: Currently the REDcard is the only known option for this route.  I believe that all credit cards will treat REDcard reloads at Target as regular purchases and will therefore earn rewards. I will be trying the REDcard here in the next few days
  • Reload cards: Vanilla Reload cards and Greendot MoneyPaks are cards that can be bought at various stores, and then money from those cards can be transferred to prepaid reloadable cards online (or, at the register in some cases).  It is becoming increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to find stores that allow reload cards to be purchased with a credit card.

How to save money with each card

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Wal-mart promos Y N N N
Target 5% off N Y N N
Small biz Saturday Y N Y Y
Amex Sync Promos Y N Y Y
SoftCard promos N N N Y

As you can see above, each of these cards offer different opportunities for saving money.  The options that work best for you probably depend heavily on your shopping habits.  Regular Walmart shoppers will like the Walmart promos whereas regular Target shoppers will enjoy 5% off all purchases.  Don’t discount the Amex Sync promos and SoftCard promos, though.  For those who like to eek out the most of every deal, there are often big opportunities for savings with each.

How to use card funds

Bluebird REDcard Serve SoftServe
Foreign exchange fee? N N Y
2.7%
Y
Fee free ATM Y
Money Pass
Y
AllPoint Network
Y
Money Pass
Y
Money Pass
Other ATMs $2.50 N/A $2.50 $2.50
Free online bill pay Y Y Y Y
Write your own checks Y N N N
Withdraw to linked bank account Y Y Y Y
Send money to others Y Y Y Y

All of the cards in this roundup offer easy access to your money once its loaded.  In fact, with all 4 cards, you can simply transfer the money to your bank account or even use the online bill pay function to send a check to yourself, for free.  A few notable differences though are as follows:

  • Serve and SoftServe charge foreign exchange fees so they’re poor choices for using outside of the United States.
  • REDcard cannot be used at ATMs outside of the AllPoint network.
  • Bluebird offers checkbooks with which you can write your own checks.

Let me know and share with other readers in the discussion session your success story using these prepaid cards.

Categories: bluebird, Credit cards, serve, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Bluebird, Serve, Softserve and Target Redcard

  1. Reblogged this on Danny the Deal Guru and commented:
    Another Guide to Bluebird, Serve, Softserve and Target Redcard. Lots of useful info if you’re not familiar with these cards.

    Like

  2. Thanks Dannydealguru, I would be very interested in learning success stories from readers in different states. For me personally Target REDCard may be the way to go!!

    Like

  3. NoonRadar

    Good comprehensive article.

    As to the REDcard (aka Redbird) not being available online, I would add a big asterisk (*) explaining that while Target itself doesn’t offer the card online, these cards are provided online for a fee from many people, including myself. There is nothing illegal or frowned upon with these transactions either…I am simply obtaining activated temporary cards at Target, per Target policy (Target lets you get more than one) and making them available online via email for other people to register with.

    All you need in order for you to register online with Amex for a permanent REDcard is the card number and 4 digit security code from an ACTIVATED temporary card, regardless of who activated that card (you don’t even get to see my info when you register with the card I provide). If permissible to include in the comment, people that are not able to find this locally can contact me at NoonRadar[at]gmail[com] if interested.

    While the temporary cards are only available at certain participating stores, you can use the permanent card for purchases in an Target in the United States, as well as for billpay, etc.

    Another point to stress: You can only have one of these prepaid Amex products in your name, so you won’t be able to register for REDcard until you’ve cancelled the other such product, if you have any.

    Like

  4. Thanks NoonRadar for further clarification and extending your help.

    Like

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