The New York Times ran a compelling front-page article this week on prepaid cards, which are reloadable cards frequently used by people who can’t qualify for credit cards or don’t have a bank account. But their sky-high fees and weak consumer protections almost make debit cards (a product we’ve long criticized) look good. The Times article cites part of a recent study by Consumers Union (the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports) that compared the cost of a hypothetical consumer's activity for 2 months for 18 prepaid cards and found that it may cost a consumer a whopping $115.05 for the first month using the Millennium Advantage Card, while the same consumer might spend much less, $15.45, with the RushCard Pay Monthly program. However, the RushCard's fine print also says if their bank goes under, your money is not protected by the FDIC.
If you do use prepaid cards, here’s some advice to ensure that you at least pick a card that doesn’t siphon off too much of your money through fees. For more on the outlandish profits banks make from ordinary bank debit cards, check out "The dark secrets of debit," from Consumer Reports Money Adviser.–Chris Fichera