Joining the ranks of celebrities with prepaid cards, the stars of the History Channel’s ‘Pawn Stars’ have launched the Modern Cash Prepaid MasterCard. Appropriately, the card strikes a balance between bad alternative financial services, like pawn shops, and good financial alternative services, like prepaid cards.

The debit card, emblazoned with the faces of the owners and operators of the famous Las Vegas pawn shop, is called the Modern Cash Prepaid MasterCard, and was created in a partnership with Redwood Hills Financial Group who specialize in co-branded prepaid debit cards.

Are Prepaid Cards like Pawn Shops?

Rick Harrison, the owner of the pawn shop, noted in his prepared remarks that, “Our prepaid debit card is a natural extension of what we’ve been doing for years in our shop — giving good people some financial ‘wiggle room’ and direct access to their money.”

In some regards that is completely true — pawn shops, for their honest customers, work as an alternative source of short-term credit in increments that bigger lending institutions wouldn’t bother with. They work as a sort of banking for the underbanked. On the other hand, prepaid debit cards couldn’t be more different from the type of services that pawn shops offer; there is no collateral, no interest, etc (though, it should be noted here that the card does offer overdraft protection and allows for negative balances, which are both sort of loans, and charges steep fees for both: $9.95 and $14.95, respectively).

A study released earlier this year found that prepaid cards charge an average of $73.35 a year in fees (to checking accounts’ $218!), by their own estimates the Modern Cash card costs $179.40 a year — about as expensive as an expensive checking account with few of the benefits.

But while the Modern Cash card does not charge interest, nor threaten to sell your engagement ring, it is not terribly competitive as a prepaid card. There is no start-up fee, but there is a $9.95 monthly maintenance fee. ATM withdrawals cost $2.50 (on top of whatever the ATM provider might charge you) outside of the MoneyPass network, which offers free withdrawals for Modern Cash cardholders.

PIN swipes and signature swipes, including online payments are all free, as is direct deposit. And while Modern Cash does not charge its users to add cash to the card, store fees apply. Western Union, for instance, charges $4.95 for this service.

Modern Cash offers to waive the monthly maintenance fee, but only if customers put more that $2,000 on their card every month using direct deposit. This raises the question, if you get $2,000 in payroll checks every month, why not open a checking account?

Another Celebrity Prepaid Card

For those unfamiliar, Gold and Silver Pawn has made a name for itself on a national scale through a reality show on the History Channel called Pawn Stars. The show, started in 2009, is one of the highest-rated reality shows on cable television, and revolves around the day-to-day operations of the 24-hour family-run pawn shop.

Many celebrities have jumped into the rapidly growing prepaid market, including Kim Kardashian, Russell Simmons, and the cast of the Twilight series. Celebrity prepaid cards tend to come at a premium. Gold and Silver Pawn’s entrance into this market should perhaps be seen as a continuation of this trend — overpriced celebrity prepaid cards — as well as a continuation of the pawn shop industry’s longstanding tradition of offering banking services to the underserved, at a price.

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