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.
With Bluebird, you get an essentially fee-free alternative to debit and checking accounts that all starts with a stored value card that’s 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 will become banks 24/7 almost all over the country.
Another nice benefit of the Bluebird card is that it comes with no foreign currency transaction fee, so that makes it an ideal card for travelers to use overseas.
But mark this well, your Bluebird account is not FDIC insured. Your money instead is the under protection of American Express. AMEX would essentially have to go bust for you to lose your money, a very unlikely scenario, but one I do need to point it out in theory at least.
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 — all of them non-bank entities looking to reinvent banking.
Of course, the whole idea of really clean-sheeting banking goes back to ING Direct, with their emphasis on no fees, no gotchas, and no minimums.
At-home coffee costs
2013 is going to be the year of the coffee drinker thanks to an oversupply of fancy coffee beans. Prices for arabica beans are down by about 40 percent on a bumper crop.
So what you pay for fancy coffee — not the junky robusta beans they give you free at work — should be going down. But beware of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
If you buy your joe at a fancy coffee shop, you’ll miss out on all the savings. Just be sure to buy it in the supermarket and fix it for yourself. Keurig machines are particularly popular for brewing fancy coffee at home.
About Clark Howard
Find more answers to your consumer questions, plus Clark’s brand-new book “Living Large for the Long Haul,” at ClarkHoward.com.
Listen to Clark Howard weeknights from 6 to 9 p.m. on AM1290/95.7FM News Talk WHIO.