The Bluebird prepaid card from American Express and Walmart, introduced last October, has added features to the card that make it even more attractive as an alternative to checking accounts.
Bluebird accounts are now covered by Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance, which protects funds in case the financial institute fails. Cardholders can now receive direct deposits of government benefits, write pre-authorized checks, deposit checks by mail, and deposit up to $100,000 a year to their Bluebird account.
New direct deposit options
This paves the way for members to have their tax refunds, social security or military funds deposited directly into their Bluebird accounts. That makes the card a more attractive choice for military and government employees, retirees and anyone else who receives government payments each month – especially as the government moves to eliminate paper checks and convert all payments to electronic ones.
Bluebird cardholders can now order checks as if they had a checking account and those checks can be used to make purchases and pay bills with no fear of bouncing checks or getting hit with overdraft fees.
That’s because funds are automatically set aside when the account holder pre-authorizes any Bluebird check they write. Cardholders can go online or use the Bluebird app on their mobile phone and get an authorization code for the amount they want to write the check for. Then they write that code on their Bluebird check and give it the payee, who can call American Express to confirm that sufficient funds are available.
Using pre-authorized Bluebird checks is similar to ordering a certified check from a bank, in that funds are deducted from the account immediately when the pre-authorization code is ordered, so there is no chance of the check being returned for insufficient funds. However, while banks charge a fee for a certified check (usually around $10), this pre-authorization service costs nothing for Bluebird cardholders.
Current cardholders can order one checkbook for free through August 2013. After that, customers who are enrolled in direct deposit can order one 50-check checkbook for free. For all other members there will be a charge of $26 for 50 checks.
Add funds by mail, add more funds overall
Bluebird account holders can now mail checks to American Express to have them added to their Bluebird cards. There is no fee for this service and funds will be added to the member’s account as soon as the check has been received and processed by American Express.
Customers can also add more money to their cards. Up to $100,000 can be added to an individual Bluebird account every year. These changes make it even easier for people to use Bluebird instead of traditional checking accounts, one of the main goals of Walmart and American Express when they launched the service. Folks can sign up for Bluebird at any Walmart for a $5 fee, or for free online at www.bluebird.com.