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Walmart and American Express Introduce Bluebird – An Alternative to Debit and Checking Accounts

The banking landscape is changing, and free checking accounts are becoming harder and harder to find. In an attempt to capture those customers who may feel that they need to unbank [3] or seek an alternative to traditional banking which is becoming more and more expensive, Walmart has partnered with American Express to offer a new card, billed as an alternative to debit and checking accounts, called “Bluebird.”

Dan Schulman, group president, Enterprise Growth, American Express states, “Bluebird is our solution to help consumers who currently may be poorly served by traditional banking products. It allows them to easily and safely move, manage, and spend their money. In an era where it is increasingly ‘expensive to be poor,’ we have worked with Wamart to create a financial services product that rights many of the wrongs that plague the market today”

Bluebird’s Features

Bluebird offers plenty of features attractive to those who want to save money and those who use technology to manage their banking. Features include:

Deposit Flexibility: Deposit money through a variety of means such as using cash at a Walmart cash register, remote check capture through the Bluebird mobile app, payroll direct deposit, or by linking checking, saving, or debit card accounts to your Bluebird account.

Mobile Wallet Capabilities
: Bluebird can also serve as a mobile wallet, which lets the users make person-to-person payments, have sub-accounts for friends and family that the users can control with their smartphone, and includes a mobile app.

Worldwide Acceptance: Bluebird can be used anywhere that American Express is accepted.

Credit Card Benefits: Bluebird also offers benefits traditionally offered with a credit card such as roadside assistance, purchase protection, global assist services, and fraud protection.

Free ATM Withdrawl: If Bluebird customers have signed up for direct payroll deposit, they can withdraw their money at MoneyPass ATMs for free.

Bluebird’s Fees

Bluebird is currently only charging a few fees:

If the customer is not enrolled in payroll direct deposit, they will have to pay a $2 ATM fee for withdrawing money each time, even if they are using a MoneyPass ATM.

Withdrawing from an out of network ATM is also $2 each time, in addition to the ATM operator fees that may be charged.

How to Sign Up for Bluebird

Customers can sign up at bluebird.com, or they can buy a starter kit at Walmart for $5. (If the customer opts for the starter kit, they can use it immediately at that particular Walmart visit, but they must finish their registration at bluebird.com to get all of the card’s benefits.

Changes in the Future

Bluebird is planning changes for early 2013 including additional features such as adding check writing capabilities. Bluebird’s site states that as of December 8, 2012, all current Bluebird accounts will be closed. Customers will have the ability to transfer their account to the new Bluebird when it launches in early 2013, or they can opt for a refund on their remaining balance.

While Bluebird seems like a winning option for American Express, Walmart and the consumer (as long as they don’t withdraw money from the ATM too frequently and accrue fees), clearly this is still a program in progress. If you are thinking of signing up, you may want to wait until the new Bluebird launches in 2013.