Serve or Bluebird?

I’ll be on vacation until January 6th.  Until then, I’ll publish a series of “mini posts” with an occasional regular post if something interesting comes up.  I may or may not answer blog comments or emails during this time.  Thanks for understanding! 

American Express Serve and Bluebird are two nearly identical products.  Both are nearly no-fee alternatives to checking accounts.  Both can be reloaded with Vanilla Reload cards.  Both support bill pay by check.  Both support transferring funds to your own bank account.

Unfortunately, each person is only allowed to have one or the other.  Bluebird or Serve. 

Bluebird has a few advantages:

  • No monthly fee (Serve has a $1 monthly fee unless you load at least $500)
  • Reload at Walmart with debit cards (via “Swipe Reloads”)
  • Paper checks

Serve has a few advantages:

  • Online credit card loads (up to $1000 per month)
  • Eligible for Amex Sync offers
  • Reload at CVS or 7-11 at the register

ServeCashReloads

Has anyone tried cash reloads with Serve at CVS or 7-11?  Do they allow credit card payments?

Which card is for you?

I don’t like the $1 per month fee that Serve charges if you don’t load $500 to your card.  Otherwise, Serve looks really attractive.  Have you thought about which one is best for you?  Comment below.


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  1. Any chance this could be expanded when you get back? If there is no fee to load $1000 to serve each month I would gladly switch from bluebird to serve. I load $3500 onto my bluebird each month to pay my student loans and mortgage. If I could load $1000 of that fee free by using a credit card on serve then I could save $7.98 per month. Not a ton of money, but every little bit helps.

  2. You can get $50 with Serve if you make two direct deposits of at least $250 each by 3/31/2014. google to find the offer or see it on Amex at serve.com/affiliate. That would cover the monthly fee for over 4 years.

    • It looks like the $50 credit only applies if you enroll in direct deposit. And, unfortunately: “Transfers and loads from any other funding source (including P2P, credit or debit card, cash, bank account) do not qualify as load transactions to receive a credit.” So that offer doesn’t help us, it seems.

  3. I tried reloading at CVS 2 weeks ago and they said they did not know how to do it. They said the only way was via vanilla reload cards which had limits up to 500.

  4. I agree with Seth; I’d like to see this expanded. My CvS, and I have to assume all the others, recently were selling specific serve reload cards (not vanilla reloads) fee free. No idea If those could be purchased on a credit card, but it definitely got me wondering.

  5. If I have 15 cc’ , approx 5 fr each bank and decide to put 1g on each through ax & gcm and then buy visa gc and deposit in bb. and then transfer to my bank acct. Would this be advisable?
    Thanks and happy holidays!

  6. Bluebird, sadly, is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain here in San Diego. I have two full Walmarts nearby and one Walmart Neighborhood Market. Recently, both the full Walmarts have been instructed NOT to load Bluebird cards with PIN-enabled giftcards, even though they’re processed as debit cards. This is from multiple employees at the Customer Service counter on multiple trips and from two independent sources that have made attempts.

    What’s worse is – in typical Walmart fashion – the self-serve reload kiosks have been broken for over five months and I don’t see any change in that status in the near future. I’m unsure if this is a Walmart-mandated change or just a person-by-person interpretation of a vague “no credit cards to charge Bluebirds” rule.

    Thus far, though, the Neighborhood Market nearest me has not had a problem. However, the employees constantly need to ask a manager if they’re authorized to proceed with the transaction. The usual response is akin to “Yeah, I guess…” I think it’s only a matter of time before Walmart shuts this off completely.

    For most of us earning points in this manner, loading $500/month seems relatively quick/easy, so I can’t really see a downside to Serve. Even if I just pay my car payment and not my mortgage, that still puts me over the $500 requirement. Coupled with the Chase Ink Bold purchase of gift cards (uploaded to Serve via the web), that’s still a great earning opportunity.

  7. Did a test load at CVS a couple weeks ago on the permanent Serve card using my CSP card. It was a successful load that showed up online as a “cash load”. To date, I have not done enough loads to determine if the “cash” designation allows for in-store credit card loads to exceed the $1000 monthly credit/debit card limit.

    It took the manager/supervisors behind the counter a couple of attempts to remember the process, but she knew about it and was happy to give it an attempt for me. Hopefully, this will spread to all CVS employees now that Serve is advertising it as a live option.

    My online load attempt with my CSP card (Set to $0 cash advance) was declined. So far, I see in-store and VR as the two best options to load Serve.

  8. I believe CSP = Chase Sapphire Preferred. Use my SERVE to load $1000 every month and CVS Vanilla Reloads. My wife BB is used specifically to load PIN enabled GC’s. Seems Serve does not entertain no name GC’s.

    • do you only load Visa and MC cc to serve to avoid cash advance fees? Anyone had experience with cash advance fees and serve? specifically amex loads?

  9. subscribe – Merry Christmas – Don’t forget about the Staples deal which expires today. $200 Visa GC gets you $15 Visa GC rebate. And/Or $200 MC GC gets you $15 Staples GC rebate. Combine with CIP for 5% normal bonus points.

  10. I live in central CA and feel for those who live in the Bay area and southern CA. When I drive to OC and LA counties, twice a year, I can never find VRs in any CVS stores. It is a small plus NOT to live in high tech areas, though I don’t recommend anyone live here. It is an agricultural region and store clerks are amazed when they handle my CSP card because it’s so unique and heavy. VRs are abundant at two CVS stores where I frequent.
    When loading VR on BB last month, I ran into a problem whereby VRs were taken by phone staff but BB did not post it on my account. Both sides denied responsibility for missing $1000. I informed VR that I held them full responsibility and accountability. Three days later, VR deposited full amount to BB. I only call when I cannot do online transaction. My heart beats hard when I load VR on BB but it is no pain no gain in this game.

    • Depends where you look. Middle-class suburbia never has VRs, but they can be plentiful in areas with less creditworthy demographics.

      • I live in an upper middle call LA suburb and I never have issues with finding VR cards at the 3 CVS in my town. I know at least 4 people the max out their BB cards each month so I’m for sure not the only one using them. I know at least one other person(AKA not me or my friends) is using them as I find VR cards mixed in with other cards all the time.

  11. I have been able to load by credit and debit into Serve online with no problems (but you pretty much have to pick just one credit and debit and not change them).

    I also tested loading $100 in a CVS. The cashier hadn’t done it before but just followed the register’s buttons for loading a prepaid card. She confirmed that I wasn’t trying to use a CVS-brand giftcard to pay and then let me swipe my credit card. She did verify that the ID, credit, and Serve cards all had my name on them. Easy process – I’m really liking Serve these days.

    • I can’t seem to get a straight answer on cash advance fees with cc loading online for serve. Does anyone have experience with Amex cc loading to serve triggering cash advance fees? Do you get your points when you load with serve via Amex cards?

  12. My wife used to have a Serve and we tried to load a gift card in my name (different last name) and not only did the transaction kick out but they “FROZE” her account so that she can’t use the Serve and also can’t open a Bluebird since she still has an “OPEN” Serve account……….meanwhile I load 5k per month over the phone by typing in the numbers and rake in the miles………..I would suggest anyone thinking of closing a Bluebird to open a Serve needs to go see a frequent flyer shrink as I think you have lost it………..lower maximums and tighter rules make Serve very unattractive……and it is so so easy to authorize a Bluebird check….I can’t believe we are having this discussion?

      • I call 1-877-429-8140 and have my Bluebird card out and the VR scatted off…….Then I punch in the numbers based on the virtual operator prompts and load two $500 loads in one call…….repeat that 5 days each month……never talk to anyone in the Philippines who make me queasy each interaction……..then I go on the website after all the loads and write my checks up to $1999……..write the authorization code on them and ship off to various bills or credit line accounts……….it is a pretty simple endeavor………..

  13. Does anyone with a working Serve card also have a BB? I’d be interested in experimenting with Serve, but reluctant to close my BB first.

  14. On the Amex Serve website, the fine print below says “3Cash advance fees for credit card loads may apply; please check with your credit card issuer for details.”
    Can anyone confirm if reloading with a CC treated as cash advance or not?

    • My experience loading the Serve with my Chase Visa cards in a CVS store is that it shows up as a purchase.

      I was declined when I attempted an online load through the Serve website using a Sapphire Preferred Visa with $0 cash advance. This didn’t surprise me based on what I’ve read about treatment of activity through AMEX online…it seems that it is almost always viewed as a cash advance by Visa’s systems.

      • Thanks for the info, Brian… I’ve signed my wife up for Serve since I’m not willing to give up my BB just yet. How did you get Chase to limit your cash advance limit to $0? I tried calling Chase to limit the cash advance on my Sapphire Preferred card to $0, but they won’t let me. They cited some policy the cash advance is based on the credit limit.. roughly 20%. Citi however did let me limit my cash advance to $0 with the condition that my credit limit will not be increased in the next 6 months, which is just fine by me.

      • Hey jd, did you use your citi visa to reload online or in the store? I think based on what folks have posted, loading in CVS would show up as a purchase, and the advantage is the lack of the $3.95 fee for $500 vanilla reloads. Even if they limit that to $1000 a month, I’m really curious about whether online cc reloads show up as purchase…

  15. Can you confirm Serve online load limit using CC is $1000 a month ($200/day) and in store $5000 a month ($1000/day) totaling $6000 a month?

    Also I heard that you do not get any CC reward for using AmEx CC to load Serve account. In this case are we are restricted to use only VISA and Master Card?

  16. I used amex at CVS store to reload Server card. But amex charged me with cash advance fees and daily interest. Reload with Chase Ink card does is good. They do not treat it as Cash advance!! Better use some card from Chase.

  17. I Love using my serve card just hope that one day I can get a real American Express credit card…. But I love my card, plus loading this card at cvs is very easy and convient u don’t need to pay no addition fee to load ur money on ur card so if u think about it that 5 dollars or 10 those other card charge it’s not worth it….

  18. OK,

    You all have me intrigued about the Serve card. But, like others, I already have Bluebird which is working well for me, and I’m reluctant to cancel it. I did confirm with AMEX that I would have to cancel it.

    I tried to get a Serve account using a different email address, but they key in on SSN, and only allow BB or Serve, as others have pointed out. I’m wondering about getting an alternate form of ID(such as an ITIN) to sign up with Serve. Anyone have any experience with this?

    The points others have made are quite enticing:

    -No fee reloads at CVS & 7-11
    -No fee reloads using AMEX gift cards allowing additional % back if purchased through sites like TopCashBack or BigCrumbs, resulting in transaction fee of 0.3%, or even a small net gain after % back(AND shipped to your door via 2 Day UPS).
    -1K online load and $5K in store loads for total of $6K monthly

    Any other benefits I’m missing?

  19. Jonathan: No, you can’t use gift cards to load Serve. I suppose you could change the credit card every couple of months. I don’t know if that would raise a flag or not. Good question.

  20. hi – i was at CVS trying to purchase a Serve. They said it is cash only for the purchase. I’m in NYC. I thought we could purchase it and load it with up to $500 per transaction? and $1k per day? thanks

  21. I tried to get a Serve for my friend using his ITIN but the number starts with 9 and didn’t accept as SSN. I had a “involuntary Typographical error” and put a 6 instead of 9,went throuhg but received an email requesting a copy of SS card and a photo ID. I don’t think I will insist since they are clear about it.

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