Green Dot prepaid debit cards have taken root at convenience stores, supermarkets and big box retailers across the country. They're convenient for consumers who want to keep online shopping sprees separate from their other purchases. They also enable Americans without checking accounts to receive direct deposits and process online bill payments at an affordable monthly cost.

Green Dot's monthly fee remains comparable to that of a typical consumer checking account with online bill pay. However, Green Dot will waive the monthly fee if you meet minimum monthly usage thresholds. You can reload your card with cash at any participating Green Dot retailer, paying no more than $5 per transaction. If you use a retailer that also cashes checks, you'll have to pay a separate fee to convert your paycheck or government check into cash before reloading your card.

Best card for envelope budgeters who can't use cash online
This card is best for people who aren't eligible for traditional checking accounts or unsecured credit cards. Green Dot also makes it easy to use this card for online shopping, making it an ideal solution for a family that wants to isolate frequent, small purchases at Amazon or iTunes from the rest of their regular accounts.

Green Dot is also popular among people who like to use the "cash in envelope" budgeting method, but still have to make occasional online purchases. If you pay for the retail version of this card, you'll get a temporary card that's eligible for use in stores or online as soon as you register your account online. However, you can request a free card by mail without buying a retail kit first.

How Green Dot compares to other prepaid debit cards
Although Green Dot's technology powers many of the private-label prepaid debit cards on the market, they've kept their own fees among the lowest in the business. Exorbitant fees drove the KardashianKard off the market, while some colleges and universities have drawn criticism for requiring students to accept financial aid awards on debit cards with high monthly service charges. For consumers without traditional checking accounts, Green Dot offers an affordable, highly functional alternative.

However, American Express and Chase have leapt into the prepaid debit card market with products that could make Green Dot look expensive by comparison. American Express' Bluebird card lets members reload their accounts with cash for free at Walmart locations and deposit checks via its smartphone app with no fees. Chase charges a monthly fee, but allows cash and check deposits at no charge via its ATM network.

Comparing prepaid debit cards to traditional bank accounts
After the Dodd-Frank changed the rates that banks can charge retailers for debit card transactions, some banks eliminated free checking accounts. That move makes products like Green Dot more attractive for many consumers, especially when Green Dot offers features comparable to most entry-level checking accounts.

Like debit cards linked to checking accounts, Green Dot offers a transaction dispute program that can help protect you against fraud and theft. However, just like traditional bank accounts, your money stays frozen until the dispute gets resolved. In addition, Green Dot cards don't carry FDIC or other federal protection against bank failure. While good for day-to-day transactions, you'll want to park your long term savings in a high-interest savings account instead.

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Green Dot(R) Prepaid MasterCard(R)

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Green Dot(R) Prepaid MasterCard(R)

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