Celebrity branded prepaid debit cards are nothing new. Kim Kardashian had her Kardashian Kard; Russell Simmons has the Rush Card, and his wife Kimora Lee has the KLS Rush Card; even the History Channel’s Pawn Stars even have their own card, moving into yet another part of the underbanked economy. But every once in a while a branded prepaid card comes onto the market that demands extra consideration, and makes us wonder what the use of branded prepaid cards are, what they say about the banking industry, and what they say about the state of our consumer culture.
The card in question is the Young Money Discover Prepaid card. Young Money, for those who don’t listen to Hot97 and/or are old, is rap superstar Lil Wayne’s record label. It’s also home to up-and-coming stars Drake and Nicki Minaj. The label is quite literally unavoidable if you listen to hip-hop on the radio.
And now, you can carry a small piece of Young Money in your wallet, if, counter to reason, you don’t like your money.
The card, which launched last month and only recently came to our attention, has more fees than Wayne has styrofoam cups. To wit:
One Time Purchase Fee: $6.95 per card
Reload Fee: $4.95 per card
Monthly Maintenance Fee: $3.95 per card per month
ATM Withdrawal Fee: $2.00 per transaction, domestic; $3.00 per transaction, international.
Paper Monthly Statement: $2.50
Replacement Card: $5.95
Money Over Everything, indeed! Wayne’s card might as well just beat you up for your lunch money while it’s at it. If you reload twice a month on paydays, and visit an ATM once a week for cash, you’re paying $22 a month just to access your money electronically. Over the course of a year, you’d spend more than $250 for the privilege of swiping a debit card with a sloppily drawn Young Money logo on it.
Meanwhile there are so many other hip-hop labels that would be better for a prepaid debit card. E-40′s Sic-Wid-It logo is a pig eating at a trough of money. Lil Wayne’s old label, Cash Money, has a platinum, diamond encrusted dollar sign for a logo. These are prepaid cards that exist only in my mind, but might be worth the fees just to impress your favorite checkout girl at the supermarket. But that’s neither here nor there.
Were you to use this card, every year $250 of your hard-earned cash would help keep Weezy in prescription cough syrup and Zubaz, and Drake in the softest of knitwear. If you think these two need more of your money, then by all means, get a Young Money prepaid card. If you like holding onto your money, you might want to consider other more reasonable options, like Green Dot’s products or even Walmart’s prepaid option.
And while it’s tempting to call Wayne’s prepaid offering a bit ironic, because it destroys wealth instead of creating it, it is actually completely in line with the ethos of mainstream rap music. The “money over everything” attitude applies to prepaid customers, too, even if they’re your biggest fans — big enough fans to electronically load their money onto a piece of plastic with a logo on it, and pay dearly for the privilege.
And this is where we get to the more troubling question at the heart of celebrity-endorsed prepaid cards: why do they persist? How is it that the means by which we purchase things has itself become a vehicle for branding and conspicuous consumption? Is this not troublingly recursive? Especially when it destroys wealth for those for whom a traditional checking account is out of reach?
Perhaps we can make sense of the celebrity-branded prepaid card by assuming it is the bastard child of the American Express Black Card and brand affinity cards; they offer a form of brand loyalty more abstract level than affinity card, and a means of experiencing the great wealth of the Black Card vicariously. Celebrity-branded prepaid products have obvious antecedents in the credit industry, but these are only reference points — branded prepaid cards only pretend to be anything like their parents. They are smoke and mirrors to distract from the fee disclosure page.
I’d like to say it’s disappointing to see Lil Wayne, Drake, and Nicki Minaj using their fame to charge people $22 a month to have access to their money, I’m not. A rule I live by is to not listen to rappers who are famous enough to have a prepaid debit card.