NEW YORK (MainStreet) – American Express (Stock Quote: AXP) is introducing major enhancements to most of its prepaid debit cards, including direct deposit, higher ATM withdrawals thresholds and additional cash loading options.

The company also said that it will give prepaid debit cardholders the opportunity to upgrade to a traditional charge card if they exhibit good payment practices as they load and use their card. The program is intended to help consumers with thin or no credit files. 

“We are just starting that now,” said Dan Schulman, group president of enterprise growth for American Express, at a payments method workshop in New York City on Wednesday. Schulman didn’t offer any details on how long prepaid cardholders would have to responsibly use their card, but he did say the interest rates provided to these customers would be comparable to the ones advertised on its existing products. 

Regardless of the specifics, the move clearly delineates Amex’s prepaid card from its competitors since credit bureaus currently do not accept information on prepaid products as no line of credit has been extended. Amex is in a unique position because it can use its prepaid cardholders’ spending record to approve them for a charge card in lieu of an actual credit report. These charge cards, which differ from a traditional credit card in that cardholders cannot carry a balance, will then help customers establish a credit history.

In terms of the additional changes made to Amex’s flagship prepaid products, starting today customers will be able load their card with their monthly paycheck – for a total of up to $5,000 a month – via direct deposit. They will also be able to withdraw up to $400 per day from an ATM, a threshold that’s $200 more than what was previously permitted.

In an effort to provide additional, more cost-effective reload options, Amex is also partnering with InComm, a network that charges $3.95 to reload the card via cash at its participating locations. Cardholders will also still be able to load the card via Green Dot’s Money Pak, which costs $4.95 per load.

These enhancements are not currently available to those who use bluebird, the reloadable prepaid debit card Amex offers exclusively at Wal-Mart. Amex did announce that its standard prepaid cards will also now be available at Office Depot. 

“We are experimenting with a number of different things right now,” Schulman said.

—Jeanine Skowronski is staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach her by email at, or follow her on Twitter at @JeanineSko.