A prepaid card can be a prepaid rip-off

NEED TO KNOW
  • Bankrate's survey of 18 prepaid cards found they all have fees!
A prepaid card can be a prepaid rip-off

Why would you pay to spend your own money? Seems like common sense that you wouldn’t, right? Wrong. If you’re carrying a prepaid card, you’re most likely paying at least a few fees, and in many cases, some pretty big ones for services you can get for free elsewhere.

A new survey by Bankrate reveals just how damaging prepaid cards can be to your wallet, supporting HLN Money Expert Clark Howard’s unfavorable attitude toward the prepaid card in general.

Clark usually uses some harsh words when he refers to prepaid cards, and new data shows that the fees associated with these types of cards can also be pretty harsh for consumers. Bankrate, the financial rate aggregator site, recently surveyed 18 popular prepaid debit cards and found that all of them incorporate fees. And these fees can add up quickly. By including charges for things like calling customer service, out-of-network ATM withdrawals, balance inquiries at the ATM and other services, some of these cards could cost you more than $20 a month.

Here’s a glimpse of what Bankrate found out about these 18 prepaid debit cards and how they could end up costing you a bundle:

  • 12 cards charge between $2.50 and $9.95 per month – for nothing specific really (Four of the cards allow users to waive that fee by using direct deposit or by loading $1,000 to $2,500 on to the card).
  • 11 cards charge users between $3.00 and $14.95 just to activate them (Two of those will waive the fee though if it’s issued online).
  • 11 cards charge users between $1.50 and $2.50 for using the issuer’s own ATM.
  • All 18 cards charge users a fee for withdrawals from another institution’s ATM.
  • 14 cards charge a balance inquiry fee depending on the ATM used.
  • 7 cards charge for customer service calls (Some offer one free call per month).
  • 11 cards charge between $1.00 and $5.95 to receive a statement by mail.

These are just a few reasons why it’s so important for consumers to shop around before deciding on a card. Clark only recommends prepaid cards that are free to activate, don’t charge for loading money or point-of-sale transactions and have no monthly fees. There are cards out there that won’t fee you to death, if you jump through the right hoops and stay within the guidelines. Since spending is limited to the balance of the card, prepaid cards can help someone who has no credit history to build some credit. They’re also useful for travelers or online shoppers who want a card that isn’t associated with their other accounts and for parents who want to keep their kids’ spending in check.

A good alternative to prepaid cards is a bank or credit union-issued free checking account. Most people can get a traditional debit card with no monthly or usage fees and can avoid all the extra hassle of prepaid cards.

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