7 On Your Side

Consumer Reports reveals best pre-paid debit cards

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Prepaid cards are exploding in popularity. They can be used to make purchases in stores, online, and to get cash from ATMs

Consumer Reports has partnered exclusively with 7 On Your Side for a report on getting the most out of your pre-paid card.

These cards are different because you can only spend what you load onto the card, so no credit check is needed. However, Consumer Reports Money Adviser found some pre-paid cards are much better than others.

Michael Feight takes care of almost all his financial transactions with his Green Dot prepaid card.

"It's convenient. It's accepted everywhere Visa is accepted," he said.

Feight is very careful how he uses the card and says he's able to avoid almost all fees.

However, the Consumer Reports money adviser's investigation of 26 pre-paid cards finds many carry hefty charges.

"You can be charged an activation fee, a swipe fee every time the card is used, a monthly maintenance fee, and even a dormancy fee for not using the card often enough," Consumer Reports Money Advisor Margot Gilman said.

Consumer Reports says some of the highest fees are on the Account Now Gold Visa Prepaid card.

It charges $9.95 per month. It costs as much as $4.95 to load money onto the card and another $2.50 for every ATM withdrawal.

And with the NetSpend Prepaid Visa Pay-As-you-Go card, you're charged every time you use the card.

"For a daily user of the NetSpend Pay-As-You- Go card, the swipe fees could add up to hundreds of dollars a year," Gilman said.

The worst prepaid card in Consumer Reports' ratings is the Amerian Express for Target.

"You can only reload it at aTarget store unless you have a bank account or direct deposit. To get cash from an ATM almost always incurs a fee. And the card isn't FDIC insured," Gilman said.

However, Consumer Reports did find some cards offer a good value and convenience. They include the H&R Block Emerald Prepaid MasterCard and the Bluebird card with direct deposit.

The Green Dot card is another good choice. As Feight has found, almost all fees can be avoided if you use it 30 times a month and reload with direct deposit.

With most pre-paid debit cards, figuring out the fees can be tough. No matter which one you're considering, read the fine print carefully. Also be aware pre-paid cards are not protected by law against loss or theft the way credit cards are, though most issuers have voluntary protections in place. You can get more information about pre-paid debit cards in the September issue of Consumer Reports.

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Tags:
visa, consumer reports, american express, 7 on your side, michael finney
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