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Wal-Mart, American Express team up to offer prepaid card

By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and American Express Co. are teaming up to offer low-income shoppers a prepaid card, touting it as a more affordable alternative to debit cards.

Called Bluebird, the card is aimed at “customers who are disillusioned or excluded by the rising cost of banking services,” the two companies said in a Monday statement. The card, which has been tested since March, will be available next week online and in Wal-Mart stores.

Bluebird, which functions somewhat like a checking account, can be used anywhere that accepts American Express cards. It’s one of many prepaid cards that have recently flooded the marketplace and try to woo customers increasingly fed up with debit card fees.

Money can be loaded onto the card at Wal-Mart cash registers, through direct deposit, via a bank account, or by using a mobile application to deposit a check remotely. With Bluebird, American Express will be able to reach more financially cash-strapped customers who may not have bank accounts.

Bluebird does not require a minimum balance and will have no monthly, annual or overdraft fees. Fees associated with the card include a $2 charge for using out-of-network ATMs to withdraw cash and a $2 fee to add money from a debit card.

Wal-Mart and American Express said Bluebird was partly inspired by shoppers who complained about the rising costs related to checking accounts and more traditional banking services.

“Our customers tell us that they are tired of navigating a complex maze of do’s and don’ts to avoid the ever-growing list of fees found on checking products,” Daniel Eckhert, vice president of financial services for Wal-Mart U.S., said in a statement.

Wal-Mart has said previously that in the U.S. about 85 percent of its transactions are paid for with cash.

The two companies said additional features, including the ability to write paper checks, will potentially be added by the first quarter of next year.

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