Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Four Things You Should Know About Prepaid Debit Cards

According to a recent study by the Federal Reserve, the use of prepaid debit cards is the fastest growing noncash payment method in America. 

There are many different reasons for this phenomenon, including the desire of consumers to better manage their finances, their preference for carrying a card instead of cash for transactions, and the increase in costs to maintain a traditional checking account.

As simple as they may sound, prepaid debit cards are not created equally. There are hundreds of different cards to choose from, all possessing unique features, benefits, and costs. 

Before choosing a prepaid debit card, you should first understand four important points that could affect your decision.

Open and Fund Your Account

You must fill out a standard application to open an account. This includes providing personal information such as your social security number, date of birth, home address, and phone number. 

Unlike with a credit card, applicants generally aren’t required to have pristine credit. Some companies will approve an applicant as long as it can verify their identity. 

Part of the reason for identifying individuals is to allow them to link the card with their other banking accounts. 

Once linked, cardholders can transfer funds through their computer or smartphone easily and instantaneously. However, if you are one of the estimated 10 million households without a bank account, depositing funds will require a different solution.

If you are employed, many prepaid cards will allow you to have your paycheck directly applied to your account. Another solution is to physically deposit cash at a participating location. For example, Walmart offers a card that you can fund inside any of its locations. 

Understand the Costs

It is important to thoroughly examine the costs associated with each individual card. Unlike with credit cards, prepaid debit card issuers are not required to provide to users a simple fee chart. 

Instead, applicants must comb through the fine print to extract the true cost of opening an account.

The worst cards charge fees for things such as activation, usage, monthly statements, and overdraft. Avoid these cards like the plague. 

 It is best to stick with names that you know and trust. Once you have found a few, focus on how each card charges for the features that you value most.

Are Your Funds Protected

Prepaid debit cards do not share the same safeguards as traditional debit or credit cards. Card companies can voluntarily choose to protect consumers, but are not obligated. If your card is lost or stolen, there are no guarantees that you’ll be reimbursed. 

The current regulation is written in a manner that does not require prepaid card companies to offer victims of fraud the option to dispute a charge.

As mentioned before, it is best to stick with the names that you know and trust because many of them are opting to provide their cardholders with the same rights and protections as debit and credit card users.

If You Call, Will Anyone Pick Up

The quality of customer service provided by prepaid card companies can vary drastically. Some organizations will only allow you to leave a voicemail or send an email regarding questions or concerns; others may charge you a fee to speak with a live person. 

Companies like Tracy Rawle’s Check City, will often take the extra measure to keep you informed of your transaction usage through email or phone.

A prepaid debit card is an excellent alternative to owning a debit card or credit card. It comes without the cost of maintaining a bank account, can be obtained without excellent credit, and won’t put you in debt. 

The most important points to understand are the differences between the cards, and the specific costs associated with the features that you use most. 

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