Financial counselor Suze Orman just came out with her own prepaid debit card called the Approved Card.
It is a MasterCard that you can use in retail stores to make purchases, but only up to the amount you have deposited onto the card. It is promoted as an easier, smarter way to be debt-free. Upfront she touts that it costs “only $3 a month if you use it how I tell you to.”
The card’s homepage goes on to tout nine benefits of the card including “free Transunion credit score, reports, and monitoring”, “safer than cash”, and “teach your teens financial responsibility.”
A closer look at the fee structure reveals some costly provisions besides the $3 monthly maintenance fee.
CARD PURCHASE FEE — $3
ATM WITHDRAWAL FEE — $2 (if you do not have direct deposit)
OVER-THE-COUNTER CASH WITHDRAWAL — $2
While these fees are less than other competing prepaid cards, this whole genre of card is set up to cost you money rather than save you money.
Making a deposit via direct deposit or transferring money from your checking account electronically to the car is free. (But would someone really put their entire paycheck or social security check onto a prepaid card every month? And if you already have a checking account, might not a regular debit card or ATM card be offered by your bank for free?
Conspicuously missing from their fee list is the cost to deposit money onto your card at an ATM or in person at a store.
Apparently you can only add money at locations that support either Moneygram or Western Union payments. The cost, they say, is typically $3.00 – $4.95. Whatta deal.
Here is another surprise.
If you only read the headlines about the free TransUnion credit score, report and credit monitoring benefit, you may miss the fact that the service is only free for the first year. After that, if you want to keep it, it is $143.40 a year.
Lastly, Suze proudly proclaims:
As she admits in smaller print, debit card purchase information is not part of anyone’s credit report and does not affect your credit score. She merely has a desire to see whether providing card use and purchase behavior to Trans Union will be considered in the future as a predictor of creditworthiness. Put another way, Suze has put a clever spin on the fact that she is sharing your purchase history with an outside company.
Prepaid cards have become popular as moneymakers for issuers particularly since they fall through the cracks of federal reform legislation that covers conventional credit and debit cards. If you must have a prepaid card for some reason, a better choice is the virtually fee-free American Express prepaid card. There is no monthly maintenance fee. In fact the only stated fee is $2 for ATM withdrawals after your first free one each month. Depositing money at a retail location incurs the same approximately $4.95 charge as does the Approved Card.