Avoid getting burned by prepaid debit cards

Avoid getting burned by prepaid debit cards

Knowing the fees associated with your card can save you money

A prepaid debit card seems like a good idea. You can’t overspend them, most people don’t have the ability to overdraft, they provide an alternative to individuals who don’t have a bank account. Government benefits such as Social Security or National Unemployment Insurance can also be paid with a prepaid debit card. Also, they are sometimes given as gifts to people who want to give cash. There is a difference between a prepaid card and a gift card.

These cards differ from traditional debit and credit cards in many ways, including fees that can cost you a lot if you don’t know what to look out for. While new protections from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) went into effect in April 2019, 3 it’s still important to understand the terms of your credit card so you can avoid failure.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Prepaid cards can come with registration fees, monthly fees, personal transaction fees, and more.
  • In April 2019, new protections from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau went into effect to increase transparency about account fees.
  • A prepaid debit card won’t issue the bill you need or track your spending in another way.

Read the print carefully

Credit card companies don’t have to make a fuss about how to advertise their charges. They rarely do so. Many companies strategically have some of the most common fees and other important information fine-printed in the Credit Card Holder Agreement. This is the small print section at the bottom of this Agreement and is often difficult to read. There is a lot of information in this section, and this information is often filled with a lot of legalese. It sounds suspicious, but it’s not illegal.

Because there’s so much to browse, most people ignore these details, even those who don’t regularly browse the mountains of information. You shouldn’t take this information lightly, though, as it may illustrate the difference between choosing a company that will help you keep a portion of your hard-earned money and choosing a company that will only poach a portion of your account balance.

Fees vary by the card company. Some have made some allegations, while others don’t seem to end up charging customers. Here are some of the most common expenses you might think of:

  • monthly fee
  • Cash withdrawal fee ATM (ATM)
  • Fees for not using the card
  • activation fee

Let’s take Visa RushCard as an example. Consumers using this card can expect to pay:

  • One-time card fee of $3.95 or $9.95
  • The monthly fee is $7.95 or $5.95, or the pay-as-you-go plan if you set up direct deposit on the unlimited monthly plan
  • $1 per purchase if you have a pay-as-you-go plan

These are just three types of charges that users may incur. 4 

Monitor your card activity

Debit cards don’t automatically issue claims like credit and debit cards do, so you either apply for it or find another way to track your spending. Under the new CFPB rules, prepaid cards need to allow you to monitor your account for free. 3 Some credit card companies allow you to track your spending like a traditional bank. This can be done through an online portal or a mobile app, which you can do from your tablet or smartphone. For those who prefer to communicate on the spot, there are credit card companies that provide updates on charges and balances via text message.

Don’t lose your card

With many prepaid debit cards, it’s easy for someone who finds it to use up your remaining balance without getting caught. Under the new CFBP rules, your money should be protected if your card is lost or stolen. 3 However, you must invoke these protections should you discover that your card has been lost or stolen. 5 

There may also be a replacement fee if your prepaid debit card is lost or stolen. 

Get rid of prepaid debit cards

If you find yourself with a prepaid debit card that you don’t need, here are some quick ways to ditch the card:

use it up

If your goal is to get rid of the card, you should buy some groceries that you know you won’t get back. If you use the card to purchase items that you decide to return later, enough time may have passed and the card will charge you a monthly fee;

Know how much money is on your card before you start shopping, and make sure your total (including tax) is less than the balance before checking out. If you try to buy something worth $51 with a $50 credit card, your purchase will be declined because there is no credit card overdraft with these cards. Alternatively, if you want to spend more than the balance on your card, you can ask the teller to deposit $50 on the card and use another payment method to pay for the rest of the purchase.

Buy a regular gift card

With this strategy, you can trade a card with unfamiliar terms and fees for a more manageable card. Many grocery stores sell a wide variety of food gift cards so you can easily redeem your prepaid card for money at the stores you frequent.

You can also use this card to send yourself an Amazon eGift card to wipe out the balance. Amazon’s eGift cards can be purchased in custom amounts, so if you have a prepaid debit card with, say, $2.25 leftover, it’s a great way to use it;

Withdraw the entire balance in cash

If you have the option, why not exchange the balance for cash? However, keep in mind that you may have to pay ATM fees and/or fees associated with exchanging your card for cash. But in the long run, it might be worth your while to get rid of this card;

Close the credit card and request a refund check

A prepaid debit card account can be closed to check the balance even if you’ve never purchased with it. However, there may also be a charge for doing so, so please read the detailed instructions before choosing this option. This also adds an extra step to the processing of your card, as you will have to deposit or cash out the card to check somewhere.

Bottom line

Prepaid debit cards do make sense in some situations, but many people will find them inconvenient and have high fees. The best way to avoid these fees is to educate yourself and give up your credit card as soon as possible or avoid prepaid debit cards altogether.

By Master James

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