Wal-Mart, American Express Offer Non-bank Option

BY TERRY SAVAGE savage@suntimes.com

It’s the odd couple of personal finance. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and American Express are teaming up to circumvent the traditional banking system by offering a new, mostly free product to consumers.

The new Bluebird account is being billed as an alternative to debit and checking accounts while offering most of the same features. But its biggest attraction is that there is no minimum account balance, no fees (either monthly or annual), a free debit card, and no credit inquiry required to open the account.

Bluebird of banking happiness

The account offers a Bluebird card, which you carry in your wallet. But you can access your money or deposit cash at any Wal-Mart cash register. You can download a free app for your smartphone, letting you deposit a check by taking a photo, similar to apps now available at the largest banks. And you can pay bills online from this account at Bluebird.com.

Friends or relatives with Bluebird accounts can transfer money directly to you — or you can set up sub-accounts for your teens or college students, allowing quick money transfers.

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