Giving your child a debit card can be an excellent way to teach them about money and budgeting early in life. With consumer debt in the US growing to over $14 trillion–according to CNBC and the Fed–any step you can take to help promote financial literacy early can go a long way.
However, not all debit cards for kids are created equal.
Some have higher monthly fees. Others are free but have ATM and card reload fees and a few cards offer features above and beyond the competition.
It’s important to understand your options before choosing which debit card to get your kid, especially when it comes to cost. So we compiled a list of some of the best debit cards for kids, including a couple of free options you should consider.
What Debit Cards Can Teach Kids About Money
Kids can learn a lot about money through using a debit card. One skill that they will likely pick up above everything else is budgeting.
With a kids’ debit card, you can put limits on how much they can spend. So you can essentially make it impossible for them to overspend, and they might start to learn those boundaries. By allotting them a predefined amount of money, you put the power in their hands to decide how they want to spend their cash.
Rather than saying they can purchase one toy at the store or one candy bar when at the grocer, they have to look at each item's price and decide what’s worth it and what’s not, just like the rest of us. They have to consider much more in terms of opportunity cost.
Plus, using plastic over cash can have some advantages. It’s like using training wheels before getting their first credit card.
Then, when you take the training wheels off with their first credit card, they’ll have a better chance of controlling their spending rather than maxing out the credit limit right away because they have built the habit of sticking to a budget when using a card.
Giving your kid a debit card and talking about money will also help promote financial literacy. They'll understand what debt is, what budgeting is, what it feels like when you overspend, spend foolishly, or max out your card, so you have no more money.
Hopefully, that will go a long way in stopping them from contributing to that multi-trillion consumer debt number mentioned above.
What Defines a Kid's Debit Card
Before diving into the list of the best kids’ debit cards, I wanted to define what a kid's debit card is. Generally, it must comply with three rules:
- A kid (under the age of 18) must be able to use the card independently.
- The card must be accepted at most retailers and online.
- There must be spending controls and parental controls, including transferring preset amounts from a checking account to the card.
Also, there are usually features that allow you to track and monitor spending and manage chores.
Most of the best debit cards for kids are prepaid cards that you can load money onto. Since they are prepaid, you avoid the need to open a checking account, and you eliminate any possibility of overdrawing an account. That's the training wheels I mentioned.
The 6 Best Kids Prepaid Debit Cards
The first two options on my list are free! They have no monthly fee.
The rest are still good options, and in some cases, better options, but there will be a monthly fee associated with them.
1. Greenlight Kids Debit Card
- Monthly Fee: $4.99
- Card Purchase Fee: $0
- Reload Fee: $0
- ATM Fee: $0
Starting off the list is Greenlight, a debit card specifically designed for kids.
Their tagline is “the debit card for kids, managed by parents.”
The pricing is similar to FamZoo, where you pay $4.99 per month but can have multiple kids on the account. It also offers countless great features to promote financial responsibility for kids, including:
- Chore management
- Real-time transaction notifications
- Parent-paid interest on savings
- And more…
Learn more about the Greenlight card here.
2. Movo Digital Prepaid Visa Card
- Monthly Fee: $0
- Card Purchase Fee: $0
- Reload Fee: $0 (in most cases)
- ATM Fee: $2.00
The Movo card, too, has no reload fee if you opt for direct deposit or other approved methods. This is a big improvement over some cards, like the Akimbo card that charges $5.95 every time you reload. Imagine reloading $20 onto a card for a kid’s monthly allowance and having to pay $5.95. That’s more than 25% in fees!
Even if you loaded $100 at a time, which you might feel pressured to do because of the cost, Akimbo is still taking nearly 6% from you.
Movo is free, which is a massive advantage if you plan to load small increments of money onto the card frequently.
However, a $4.95 inactivity fee kicks in after only 90 days (compared to 12 months for Akimbo). So if your kid is a good saver and doesn’t use their card often, you may face this fee from Movo. Like many other cards on the list, you have to watch out for ATM fees with this one.
Learn more about the Movo Virtual Visa Prepaid card here.
3. Current Visa Debit Card
- Monthly Fee: $3 ($36 billed annually)
- Card Purchase Fee: $0
- Reload Fee: $0
- ATM Fee: $0 (for in-network ATMs)
The current card is not free, but it does offer transparent pricing and a one-month free trial. Then, for only $36 a month, you add money to your card as many times as you’d like, worry-free.
Plus, Current offers more than just a debit card. They offer a mobile app with a whole suite of products, including teen banking. It’s one of the most technology-forward options on this list.
Also, for what it's worth, the card looks cool and wins style points.
Learn more about the Current Visa Debit Card here.
4. FamZoo Mastercard Reloadable Prepaid Card
- Monthly Fee: $5.99
- Card Purchase Fee: First four cards are free, then $3 per card
- Reload Fee: Free when using a qualified bank transfer or direct deposit
- ATM Fee: Varies by ATM
The FamZoo card is probably the most popular kids' debit card option on this list. That’s because it was designed to be a kid's debit card, whereas some other options on the list are just prepaid debit cards that happen to be good for kids.
Because the card is designed for kids, it offers a lot of neat features, including:
- Setting up payments for chores.
- Monitoring and tracking kids spending.
- The ability to set savings goals for your kids.
The monthly fee is $5.99 per family – so the value gets better the more kids you have using the card. Plus, there are methods to reload your card for free to help keep costs down.
Learn more about the FamZoo prepaid debit card here.
5. Gohenry Prepaid Mastercard
- Monthly Fee: $3.99
- Card Purchase Fee: $0
- Reload Fee: $0 (when loading via debit card)
- ATM Fee: $1.50
Gohenry offers a free 30-day trial. After that, it is one of the more expensive cards on the list, coming in at $3.99 per month per child.
The premium price could be warranted depending on what you are looking for in a kid's debit card. However, Gohenry is designed for kids, similar to FamZoo, and offers a sleek app to help teach kids about money.
Last, the ability to personalize the card is a nice touch and could help your kid get a little more excited about learning to understand money. However, it costs $4.95 to get a customized card.
Learn more about the Gohenry card here.
6. Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard
- Monthly Fee: $0
- Card Purchase Fee: $0 (first sub card free, after that $4.95)
- Reload Fee: $5.95
- ATM Fee: $1.98
The Akimbo prepaid debit card is technically free. But though there are no monthly or annual fees, there is a litany of other costs.
On top of the hefty $5.95 cash reload fee is a $4.95 card replacement fee and a $5.95 inactivity fee (if your card is unused for 12 months).
I like the card because it's free, and creating sub-cards for your kids is relatively easy. Plus, it comes with a one-time fee of only $4.95. Still, the other expenses associated with this card add up fast (especially the fee to transfer money onto the card).
Learn more about the Akimbo Prepaid Mastercard here.
Bonus: Open a Joint Checking Account
The bonus option on this list is a regular (non-prepaid) debit card.
You can do this by opening a joint checking account with your kid, giving them access to an FDIC-insured bank account and a debit card at the same time.
The two risks with this option are:
- You need to make sure that you won’t get hit with any overdraft fees.
- You need to check the minimum age to open a checking account, which can vary by bank.
If you can get by those two hurdles, this could be a great option because it’s free. There are typically no monthly fees associated with checking accounts and debit cards, and you don’t have to worry about “reload” fees either.
Pros and Cons of Getting Your Kid a Debit Card
Kids Debit Card Pros
Teaches Kids to Budget: As mentioned at the beginning of this article, giving a kid a debit card can be one way to teach them about budgeting and enforce good money management practices.
You Can Set Spending Amounts: Most prepaid cards put the parent in the driver’s seat to set spending limits and monitor accounts. So you can start to let your kids spend money on their own without completely letting them loose.
Avoid Overdraft Fees: Using a prepaid card, you eliminate the risk of having a kid overdraft a debit card and rack up hefty fees.
Multiple Other Features: Many of the best-prepaid debit cards for kids come with additional useful features like setting interest rates in “savings accounts” at a number that will incentivize savings and reward kids for doing chores.
Kids Debit Card Cons
The Cost: There is no getting around it; whether it’s a monthly fee, reload fee, ATM withdrawals fee, or another type of fee, kids' debit cards are expensive. The high price you have to pay takes away the risk of overdraft fees, and in some cases, the cost is offset with fun features to help you manage the card and teach your kid(s) about money at the same time.
No Rewards: Unlike traditional credit cards, most debit cards do not offer the ability to earn cashback or rewards.
Age Limits: The age limit to open a card tends to vary by company. This is another thing to look up before moving forward with a card.
How to Choose a Debit Card for Your Kid
Choosing a debit card for your kid is easy once you know your options.
In general, there are three questions you should answer to make the decision.
1. Do You Want a Prepaid Card?
If you want the safety and security that comes with loading money onto a prepaid card, then you have started to narrow down your options in the direction of the six cards listed above.
If you are okay with taking the risk of overdrafting an account or using a bank that stops overdrafting in the first place, going the route of a traditional debit card might be a good fit for you.
2. Do You Want Added Features?
If you want a card and app that comes with many bells and whistles, then opting for the FamZoo, Greenlight, or Gohenry card is probably a good choice.
Each card’s website details exactly what it can and can’t do (monitoring spending). Before signing up, read those details over carefully.
3. How Often Will You Reload the Card?
If you plan to reload the card monthly or even weekly, you’ll want to pay extra close attention to the reload fees and methods for reloading a card.
If you only plan to load up the card once a year, the monthly fee associated with the card is the cost you will want to keep lower.
Summary: Best Free Kids Debit Cards
Getting a debit card for your kid to use can be a great way to help teach them about money and budgeting.
It can also be a great way to simplify your finances; instead of doling out an allowance in cash, you can manage money digitally, just like most of us do when paying our own credit cards or monthly bills.
The key when choosing a card is to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs. As you saw reading this list, these cards are not cheap, and the monthly costs and fees can add up quickly!
This post was produced by Wealth of Geeks
Featured Image: Wealth of Geeks.
Kevin runs the personal finance website Just Start Investing, where he focuses on making investing easy. Just Start Investing has been featured on Business Insider, Forbes, and US News & World Report, among other major publications for his easy-to-follow writing. Check out Just Start Investing to learn the simple strategies to start investing today, as well as ways to optimize your credit cards, banking, and budget.