There’s only one fear greater than being a parent of a teenager who has just passed his driver’s exam. Being the parent of TWO teenagers who have just passed their driver’s exam. I’ve never worried as much as I do when they are five minutes late getting home. And if concern for their safety weren’t enough, car insurance skyrockets like the shuttle heading for orbit.

But there is one issue I hadn’t anticipated—paying for gas. The other day my daughter called from the van to inform me she was running on fumes and had no money. Fortunately, she made it home with fumes to spare. But it was clear I needed a solution to this problem. And that brings me to the American Express reloadable prepaid card.

Last month AMEX entered the prepaid card market with a bang. Called simply the American Express Prepaid Card, it comes with many of the features of an American Express credit card and with none of the fees of most prepaid cards. In fact, as free prepaid cards go, the Amex card is about as free as you can get. And it’s perfect for teenagers, as I’ll get to in a moment. But first, let’s look at the fees.

AMEX Prepaid Card Fees

As I’ve written before, fees are the most important consideration when it comes to prepaid cards (or any banking for that matter). And the AMEX prepaid card has one and only one potential fee—ATM withdrawals. The first ATM withdrawal each month is free. After that it costs $2 per transaction, in addition to any fees charged by the ATM owner.

And that’s it. There are no fees for activating or reloading the American Express Prepaid Card. There are no fees for using the card. The Green Dot’s and Rushcard’s of the world surely took notice and must realize that the days of high fees are numbered.

Who Can Use The Card

This is where the card is perfect for teenagers. A parent (or anyone 18 or older for that matter) can order up to three cards. One of the three cards can be in the parent’s name, or all three cards can be in the names of the children. A cardholder must be just 13 years of age or older to use the card.

In our case, I’ve ordered three cards—one for me and one for each of our teenagers. We’ll keep the kids’ cards in the car they drive so they can buy gas in a pinch.

Monitoring Card Activity

Because our kids will be using the card, it’s important to have some control of the card’s activity. AMEX provides the following control and monitoring options:
Turn on/off ATM access (limited to $200 maximum withdrawal per week)
Suspend/reactivate the card
Turn on/off e-mail notifications
View transaction history

Just being able to track every purchase is enough control for me. But getting email notifications after each purchase is a nice bonus.

Loading The Card

Another great feature of the card is how you can load it. Like any prepaid card I’ve ever seen, you can load the card through a transfer from your bank account. But what sets the AMEX card apart is that you can also load it from an American Express credit card without paying any fees. Other cards charge an arm and a leg to load the card with a credit card.

While there is no minimum balance requirement, the minimum load amount is $25. The maximum load amount is $2,500.

Other Features

While the low fees are great, there are other features of the AMEX prepaid card that set it apart:
24-hour Customer Services: While some prepaid cards charge a fee if you call customer service, American Express offers free 24-hour assistance.
Roadside Assistance: This is perfect with teenagers on the road.
Purchase Protection: If an eligible item purchased with the card is accidentally damaged, or is stolen, Purchase Protection can reimburse you—up to 90 days from the date of purchase.

It will be interesting to see how other prepaid cards respond. But for now, the AMEX prepaid card is head and shoulders above the competition, with one exception. If you use a prepaid card to receive your paycheck via direct deposit and to pay bills online, the AMEX card is not for you. For more info, check out the American Express Prepaid Card.