Plain Money ideas

The Bluebird card

There’s a new payment card available — and while it’s not for everybody, it might be for you. Called the “Bluebird” card, it’s a joint venture of American Express and Walmart. You load it with money and then it’s good anywhere that American Express cards are accepted. Here are some of the people who can benefit most from the Bluebird card:

  • People who currently have no bank account at all. For the so-called “unbanked,” this is a great solution. Instead of cashing paychecks and operating on a cash basis, these consumers can have those checks e-deposited to the Bluebird account, and then spend from the card or get cash at an ATM. Worries about theft and loss are greatly decreased.
  • People who want to control their spending. Here’s how it would work: They would have their paycheck deposited to their bank account and use that money only for absolutely-must-pay expenses such as rent. Then, they would transfer most of the rest to their Bluebird card,  which would allow them to spend the transfer but no more. You can’t overdraw a preloaded debit card like Bluebird.
  • Parents who want an easy way to transfer an allowance to a son or daughter, possibly one attending college away from home. Bluebird allows sub-accounts, each with its own card and balance. The transfer is as easy as a mouse click — and, once again, the card can’t be overdrawn. It also allows snoopy parents to monitor online how the money is being spent.

Before recommending Bluebird, naturally I conducted my own trial. I was concerned about an old impression I had: that a lot of merchants would take Visa and MasterCard but not American Express. So for several days, including several travel days, I used my Bluebird card exclusively for all transactions. In my ordinary travel, I didn’t find any store that didn’t take it, after trying restaurants, gas stations and retailers up and down the Interstate.

Because the Bluebird card is an American Express service, Bluebird dollars can count toward American Express rewards programs such as frequent flier miles. Here’s a discussion of how some frequent fliers are using the card. (This use seems quite unintended, as the card was initially marketed for use by low-income consumers using other prepaid products.)

You can find out more at And here’s a review of the card.

Once again, this card isn’t for everyone. For the right people, it’s great!

Update: Here are some more things to consider about this card:

* Some people report trouble with customer service. (I haven’t had any reason to call.)

* Getting money cleared into the account may take a while, and Bluebird apparently can’t be used for direct deposit of government checks.

* A friend just told me about a local farmers market and a local independent restaurant that won’t take American Express . . . first I had heard in my community.

* Some bloggers were paid by American Express for expenses associated with reviewing this card. I was not. It’s still working well for me.