Living with credit

Emily’s list: Walmart + AmEx = Bluebird

Emily Crone

American Express has a reputation for being a high-end credit card issuer, with its exclusive Black Card and classy business charge cards. Walmart has a reputation for catering to the common man and woman. So I was intrigued when I heard that the two companies were combining forces to create a new prepaid debit card.

Earlier this week, the companies announced the Bluebird card: “a new alternative to debit and checking accounts.” According to the press release, “Bluebird addresses the need for an affordable, transparent way to manage everyday finances, with premium features, no minimum balance, monthly, or overdraft fees.”
It is based on a 2011 pilot program. The two companies used feedback from customers disgruntled with the high fees that can come along with traditional checking accounts and debit services.

With Bluebird, “the only fees consumers will ever pay are clear, transparent and within their control, such as out-of-network ATM withdrawals for a consumer that does not have direct deposit.” I poked around the terms and this appears to be true — no cost for a replacement card, inactive account, foreign exchange purchases, electronic bill pay, most forms of adding money and withdrawing at in-network ATMs. The only fees you really have to pay are $2 for funding it via a debit card and $2 if you withdraw or get declined at non-network ATMs. There are insurance benefits that most credit cards have, and American Express says it will add more features to Bluebird next year, such as more ways to deposit money and check-writing capabilities.

One other unusual and exciting feature is that it features a “digital wallet,” which includes person-to-person payments and the ability to control sub-accounts (such as those for your kids) directly from your phone.

I like the idea of a card that is as straightforward as possible. And because it works like a debit card that requires you to fund it upfront, you have to use it wisely. It seems like the fees really are decent compared to some other prepaid cards. Want to try it? Order it online for free or buy a set-up kit at Wal-Mart for $5.

What do you think — would you ever use Bluebird? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. I hope you’ll also enjoy reading my list of my 10 favorite personal finance blog posts from the past week!

1. Debt and the Girl uses a real-life example of buying a car to show why having a good credit score is so valuable.

2. Little Miss Money Bags explains why it’s so important for her to always have her finances in order. She makes a compelling point — why bring unnecessary stress upon yourself?

3. My Dollar Plan shares some of the smartest ways to handle a financial windfall.

4. We’ve heard people talk about how expensive it is to have kids, but Dinks Finance shows how much it costs to fall in love and get married.

5. Money Smart Life reveals two aggressive ways to pay down debt: the siege and the assault.

6. Young Adult Money lists five steps you can take to improve your finances and set yourself up for success.

7. Ready For Zero examines the ins and outs of a credit report with direct input from a vice president of Experian — one of the big three credit bureaus.

8. We’ve all been there. 20$s Money shares some of the times he made poor choices with money and what he has learned from them.

9. The Money Principle explains why comparing your budget to others is a really awful idea.

10. A guest post on Budgeting in the Fun Stuff explains why many pro athletes go broke and how we can learn from their mistakes.

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  • Cat

    The Wal-Mart card seems aimed towards low income spenders. It may be an enticement ‘too good’ to handle for those who buy on the spur of the moment. Once chosen it must be spent at a future trip to Wal-Mart….

  • anita t candia

    Can we use it at other stores and go to any bank to fill it up too?

  • Hi, Anita. You can use it at any store that takes American Express. For now, you can make deposits
    through direct deposit, through Walmart or through your own bank where you have an account. There’s supposed to be a smartphone app for mobile deposit, too.
    And according to Walmart, “In the first quarter of 2013, Bluebird will be adding additional features, such as more options to deposit money and check-writing capabilities.”

  • Dee

    I am seriously considering getting a Bluebird account though I’m going to dig a little further!! There are always cons as well as pros to everything. It’s one of those too good to be true deals. Anyway, on the credit bureau ordeal, I will never go thru Experian. The company allowed someone to use my card (which don’t know how he got my cc# in thee 1st place, hacker maybe) didn’t even ask him for the security code on the back!! That is very unpro. in my opinion. They are a credit bureau, HELLO! And ruining someone else’s credit!!! That is ironic!! I turned them in th the BBB.

  • Dodi

    I got a different prepaid card from AMEX with many similarities and I have one BIG complaint. With the Bluebird (just like my other card) they state it could take up to 5 business days for money to be transferred from your checking account through ACH and actually show up in your AMEX account. Well, they TOOK MY MONEY RIGHT AWAY FROM MY CHECKING ACCOUNT and MADE ME WAIT 5 BUSINESS DAYS TO SEE IT IN MY AMEX ACCOUNT. I will not use another AMEX prepaid card due to their ridiculous waiting period for transfers from your checking account, which is the main reason to have the card in the first place.

  • Hi, Dodi.
    I’ve been banking online with online billpay and interbank ACH transfers for a long time, and the practice you describe — having money immediately withdrawn from your account, then a five-day delay before it shows up in the recipient account — has been standard operating procedure for every bank except one.
    That one, NetBank, treated online and ACH transfers as if there were a paper check involved — it left the money in your account until the recipient took action. The consumer, not the bank, kept the “float” and any interest involved.
    The other banks all withdrew the money immediately, and posted it to the recipient five days later, even if the electronic transfer took just a blink of an eye.
    This isn’t an area I’m an expert in, so I am not sure who is imposing this delay — it could be AmEx is “taking” the money immediately, or it could be your own checking account bank is removing it immediately and keeping the “float” on your money for itself.
    Why do they do it? Probably because they can. While it’s an anticonsumer practice, not enough consumers have made a stink about it.
    I have gotten used to it myself, and justify it so: As long as the bank is offering me free online bill pay and online transfers, I’m OK with them keeping the infinitesimally small amount of interest generated over those five days.

  • Kenny McDonald

    I decided to give Bluebird a try and this is what happened. First the store display says it costs $5 for the kit. I get to the register only to discover you cannot get the kit without putting money on the card immediately. I hand the cashier a $20 and they put $15 on the card. Ok I think great and go home and set it online. You can add sub accounts but not an equal card for a spouse. I downloaded the iphone app and deposited two checks. The process was quick and painless EXCEPT they held the funds for 7 business days. So now I have over $100 in my account and time to try it out. I made a small $11 purchase at a store and it functioned perfectly. I tried an online transaction and I was told it could not be used as it was a prepaid card. Next I tried a RedBox. Same thing refused not declined but refused. Next I went to a restaurant and ate a meal. Much to my dismay the server returned with my card and receipts. I find that American Express has decided to disclose my remaining account balance to the server and the the restaurant. This I am extremely unhappy with. If I wanted third parties to know how much money I have then I would have a clear wallet and a net worth display necklace. Not a very good idea. I called American Express and waited on hold 24 minutes to talk to a human. The call center is in India and I had alot of difficulty explaining the issue to them. Once he finally got what I was saying he said it was something the store had to disable not AMEX. I asked where the account balance info was generated and once again he was confused. I asked for the feature to be disabled for my privacy and he said it could not be disabled by AMEX. End result I drained the account and discarded the card. Waste of $5.

  • Just now getting around to reading this. Thanks for mentioning our post on the Debt Siege vs the Debt Assault!

  • ajp

    I decided to try Bluebird and have had a terrible experience so far. I had the same issue as described by Kenny where you have to deposit cash when you open the account. In addition, they “lost” my first direct deposit for 4 days. I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me where it was. I called American Express Centurion Bank in SLC directly to try to find my money and no one there could handle bluebird questions. The reps in India gave me a total of 4 absurd reasons why it was my fault the money did not go through. The 24/7 live customer service is a hoax; I had many calls that were turned away by a recorded that said something along the lines of bluebird being too successful for them to take my call. The customer service is terrible. Bottom line is I think Amex made a big mistake taking this on. They are clearly in over their heads.

  • James Pak

    STAY AWAY!!! I am not the type to take the type to register just so I could post a review but in this case I took the effort to protect everyone. BlueBird is a scam! If it were not from WalMart of AMEX together this would be called fraud! I deposited money into the account and after a few gas purchases and a meal they blocked the card for suspicious activity. To call them you have to wait a minimum 20 minute wait but average 45 minutes. If you have to call to get your card unlocked due to suspicious activity then plan on waiting for 2 hours!!! Your balance appears on all your receipts and it declines alot of the time causing you embarrasement. I cant write more horror stories as this is just a couple but I suggest you doing a google search on their reviews and see everyone elses experience. Please do not spend your hard earned money on this card even if its only $5. It was too good to be true and it is quite evidently wasn’t. Take my word for it and try another alternative! I hope this helps someone avoid the stress and headache this causes people to go through. The economy is bad enough to avoid having to be without your cash for 5 days to 7 days. I just transfered out $5000 to my bank account by linking it…I hope this doensnt’ take as long as everything else because I just want this nightmare to be over!

  • Shannan

    I went to the ATM at the Walmart tonight to get my money out and the damn thing printed a receipt saying ‘Declined. Reason: Bank Unavailable.” So I called the Customer service hotline, was told, yea, they were experiencing difficulties and updating the system. BUT… two minutes later, I went to check my account and it said it approved my transaction. WHAT THE HELL? I loved this card because it had no fees, but this is the second time this month, “systems have been experiencing problems” and I was unable to get my freaking money I was trying to withdraw. Walmart couldn’t give me the money because they didn’t have a record in their system showing any transactions were made on that ATM at that time. Even though I had the receipt, showing them my online account showing it was approved, I have NADA! Nothing! Zilch! My money is gone. I had to put it in dispute to get my money back. It will go into affect in two days. And then there is no guarantee that they can give me my money back. I have no money for my son’s medicine. No money for my husband to put gas in his truck. No money to even buy toiletries that are necessary. If my dispute comes out in my favor or not, I will never use this card again. If anyone ever ask me about the card, I will tell them this story. And yes, you may find this online elsewhere too because I am going to make people aware that my money was stolen from Bluebird, NOT Walmart. I just want my effing money back. That’s it. I want to pay bills and get my son his medicine.

  • Brown

    I used the card fine yesterday, got my paycheck direct deposited today, go to get money off the card and it gives me some error that I choose the wrong transaction. I tried 2-3 times and same issue, called customer service who told me my card was flagged by some department. They transferred me after a 40+ min wait only to tell me I had to validate my ID by faxing in my social security card. I asked them why my card got flagged and they replied that it was proprietary information wtf its my account. So now I have been on hold for 20 min and counting to get my card unlocked long enough to get my money and put it somewhere else where I can get to it when needed. This is ridiculous.

  • Robert Taylor

    So it is 8 A.M. Eastern Time. My direct deposit is not in my account. I call customer service to find out what has happened. I wait 16 minutes to be connected to a live person and of course that person is in India. The rep tells me that the deposit may show up in my account by as late as 2 P.M. I called my employer and the money was transmitted to American Express Monday night and was accepted by American Express Tuesday at 2:33 A.M. DO NOT GET THIS PRODUCT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Ernest Yarborough

    I purchased this card. I am very upset that my balance shows up on the merchant receipt after each use. I am considering suing Walmart and American Express. I want to hear about your experiences with this card. Please email me:

  • Jennelle

    I have been using Bluebird for about 2 months now. So far so good. 7-11 Here in Oklahoma dosnt accept AMEX….dang it… But I use it at RedBox and I think I have found a loophole. I rent a movie for one night and it will charge me the amount it promised when I rented the movie. If I keep the movie more than one night then it wont charge me at all. I think it has to do with the rules of the card. It wont allow overdraft so it wont allow charges other than what was agreed to in the first place when funds were available. Not sure, but I keep my Redbox movies for 2 nights now and they are free. Its been working for the last 6 rentals. Hope it dosnt end soon.

  • Dave

    Same issue here 8:36am CST direct deposit not in my account. Last Fri it was posted at 9:22am CST. This card is **&%$#@!^^&. Don’t wast your time

  • Lisa

    The only complaint I DID have is that the account balance was showing on receipts.
    I’ve had this phone since December and all direct deposits have hit my account by 6:30 a.m. until today. Called in because I still haven’t received it and was told to wait until 2 p.m. because “that’s when all direct deposits are processed”. I’m livid. As a single parent this is not ok. They’re holding MY money hostage. I will be canceling as soon as I get it and going back to Bank of America’s Cashpay card. I’ll put up with the $1.50 monthly fee and $1.50 ATM withdrawal fees. My money is available shortly after midnight and because it’s a VISA, I don’t have to worry about it being declined.

  • Cindy Miska

    OMG!!!!! To say that this is nothing short of pulling teeth WITHOUT MEDICINE is a understatement. Credit acct – that is what they told me when I went to go get the money order at Walmart for Rent 2 weeks after I had this card. Was told by a India rep (yes asked where she was located) that it is a credit acct even though it is my money and can only take off $500 a day. Cant transfer back to the Walmart card as transfers can be only to banks – but they had no problem taking the funds from that same debit card. Direct deposits not showing in acct for as much as almost 24 hrs after being taken from the employer. Oh and this subaccount BS please. The $500 is combined card numbers including subaccounts. I was on hold and talking to a rep for more than 2 hrs yesterday but only after trying to get ahold of them for more than 7 hours being told card is to popular cant talk to you.
    We are going back to the Walmart card as this has caused such a problem and it is not worth it

  • Stellita

    I was so excited about this card because my visa debut charges me extremely but I can’t handle my balance on every receipt showing my balance . I wish they would remove that and I will be so happy

  • Mac

    Hey this card is not good for direct deposits it holds it for a long time … does work good for just small amounts of money….
    for like using at redbox or for netflix….
    but beware use at atms will charge a fee & there is a fee for every time it declines at soads machines & atms and will go into negative balance …

  • Courtney Nelson

    If anyone is considering a lawsuit against AMEX and WALMART because of this card please contact me at

    I was a customer for over 2 years of this card and went through nothing but hassle. After receiving direct deposits for almost a year straight they closed my account with no warning or provocation from me. Now they have held onto almost $400 for about a month and I am contacting a lawyer. I am in Florida. Please contact me with contact information for my lawyer.