Beware the pre-paid debit card

October 6, 2009 2:50:54 PM PDT
Pre-paid debit cards are easy and popular, and they might seem like a good way to shop without using your credit card. But without reading the fine print, those cards can end up costing you more money in the long run.

Credit cards are the universal go-to substitute for cash. But tens of millions of consumers don't have access to either credit or a bank account. That is a big reason behind the growing popularity of pre-paid debit cards.

Kirsten Trusko is the president of the network-branded Pre-paid Card Association. She says they provide an option for those looking to avoid debt and overdraft fees.

But consumer advocates warn the pre-paid cards come with a an expensive catch: hidden fees.

"There are fees for everything," Consumer Reports senior editor Tobie Stanger said. "There's fees for taking money out. There's fees for asking questions. One card we found charged a fee for speaking to a machine."

"Some consumers choose to have more services, and their behavior can drive up fees," Trusko said.

Despite the card industry's claims, consumer watchdogs suggest before getting a pre-paid card, you should evaluate your banking patterns, since that could increase fees. You should check the card Web site and fine print for hidden fees, and you should consider other options like a secured credit card. Those steps will help ensure you're not spending more money and getting less.

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WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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