7 On Your Side: Prepaid Cards - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

8/21/06

7 On Your Side: Prepaid Cards

Construction worker Matthew Goodrum says his hard earned cash flies out of his hands the minute he cashes his paycheck! 

"I get the money; I'm going to spend it because it's accessible," says Matthew. To help stop the bleeding, Matthew decided to try a reloadable, prepaid debit card. It looks just like a traditional debit card but it's not linked to a bank account.

His limit is based on the amount of money he loads onto the card. "I can use it just like a credit card, pay my bills," explains Matthew. 

In fact, you can use the prepaid plastic anywhere debit or credit cards are accepted. These cards are issued by banks and private companies. They're branded with Visa and Mastercard logos and carry the same protections as their traditional debit and credit cards.

You can pick one up and load it at a variety of retail and financial locations nationwide. "So if you bought a card in say in Austin, Texas, and you're traveling to California, most likely there's a convenient location near you in that state," says Bertrand Sosa with Netspend.

While the prepaid cards may be convenient, the fees tacked onto them can really add up! Most banks we visited in Tyler offer these cards in the form of a gift card. There are activations fees and fees if you get a refund on any unused value.

Also expect to pay if you haven't used your card within a certain period of time. Matthew paid $9.95 to activate his card and shells out another $9.95 per month for unlimited transactions. There may also be reload fees, ATM fees, and postage fees.

It's important to do your homework!  "If you do qualify for a bank account, you might compare the cost of this product to the cost of a bank account and see how much it's going to cost for you," suggests Gail Hillebrand with Consumers Union. But for those who don't qualify, like Matthew, a prepaid debit card can be a cheap and easy solution. "Everybody I know pretty much uses them because it's convenient," says Matthew.

When it comes to reloading, or adding more money to your card, 7 On Your Side found, the cards offered at local banks, do not allow you to reload. They're typically a one-time use after your money runs out.

Christine Nelson reporting. cnelson@kltv.com

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