Prepaid, reloadable cards are growing rapidly in popularity as a way to manage money. You can acquire the cards in stores, banks, or online, and load them up. They are an easy way to pay for purchases and can take the place of a traditional bank account.
Consumer Reports has advice on buying prepaid cards and has analyzed the terms of 20 cards and says they have gotten better than they used to be.
One of the big improvements is safety. All of the prepaid card Consumer Reports checked now voluntarily offer some of the same protections as bank-issued credit and debit cards. However, you must register your card to get those protections, and since they are only voluntary, they could be revoked.
Consumer Reports also evaluated the cards for value and convenience. For those who use the cards in place of a bank account, it’s important to be able to pay bills, add money, and withdraw cash without incurring a lot of fees.
The lowest-rated card, the NetSpend Prepaid Visa Pay-As-You-Go, has relatively high fees, and there’s always a fee to use an ATM. In response, NetSpend says it offers “a feature-rich product that may not be comparable to prepaid card programs Consumer Reports reviewed.”
The cards Consumer Reports rated the highest work well for those who use them instead of a bank account, as well as for those who use them for shopping. All have low fees, voluntary safety protections and are widely accepted.
The highest-rated cards are:
- Bluebird from American Express and Walmart
- Walmart, ChaseLiquid issued by Chase Bank
- Green Dot Prepaid Visa
The government’s Consumer Financial Protection Board is expected to issue new regulations for prepaid cards this spring. They will guarantee protections for lost and stolen cards, and make it easier to understand and compare fees.