Are you fed up with your bank? The best banking experience comes from an unlikely retailer that is just about everywhere.
Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, is now in a new alliance with American Express for a partnership called Bluebird. After first launching in fall 2012, this service has now been named the best banking alternative by Consumer Reports.
A closer look at Bluebird
With Bluebird, you get an essentially fee-free alternative to debit and checking accounts in the form of a stored value card branded with the AmEx logo.
It's easy to use. You simply deposit money online, via a smartphone app, or at any Walmart cash register in the United States. You can also write checks like you would from any regular account. About the only thing you don't get is limited banking hours; Walmart retail locations are becoming 24/7 banks almost all over the country!
Another nice benefit of Bluebird is that it comes with no foreign currency transaction fee, so that makes it an ideal card for travel abroad.
Bluebird initially launched without FDIC protection. But that extra layer of security was added in March 2013, which insures your funds up to $250,000.
Other Walmart services and the future of banking
And here's a bonus for people who need to wire money to family and friends across the country. Walmart is getting into the cash wire business with a new service called Walmart 2 Walmart. While the typical wire cost could be $50 to $75 from Western Union, this new program allows you to go into any Walmart store to the Money Center and send a wire of up to $900 for just $9.50.
We're in an era where giant monster mega-banks are trying to fee customers to death. A recent report from BankRate.com found that the minimum balance required to avoid fees on a checking account is up 365 percent in five years!
You won't encounter that with Bluebird. Meanwhile, what Walmart and American Express are doing is similar to what PayPal is doing with Discover -- allowing anyone who has a PayPal account to pay for goods and services at 7 million merchants using a PIN-based card that's branded with the Discover logo.
So you have all these non-bank entities looking to reinvent banking. Of course, the whole idea of really clean-sheeting banking goes back to the old ING Direct (later bought by Capital One and rechristened "Capital One 360",) with their emphasis on no fees, no gotchas, and no minimums.
For further reading: