When choosing a prepaid card, it’s important to look at the fine print, consider how your habits will interact with the card’s fee structure, and think about what your goals are: Is this a long-term account? Or just something for the time being?
Monthly Fees: This is an important one to consider. Most checking accounts have a monthly fee at this point, which ought to make a $5 monthly fee for prepaid less shocking to a consumer. But some, like Suze Orman’s Approved Card, offer ways of lowering the monthly fee by using direct deposit. Not only will this reduce your loading fees — direct deposit is typically free — if it helps lower your monthly fee, all the better.
Look for a card with a monthly fee of $5 or less that also offers ways of avoiding other fees. Don’t sign up for a celebrity-sponsored card, as they typically have higher fees.
ATMs: Does the card offer you access to an ATM network for free cash withdrawals? Many do not, stunning as that sounds, meaning that you’ll have to pay to turn your cash into plastic and then pay again whenever you want to get your cash out of your card. That’s a bad deal for obvious reasons.
Make sure you have some free withdrawals. Or better yet: an ATM network that you can use to load money onto the card with — that is, if you plan on using the card for a long time, like a checking account.
Savings: If this really is going to be a long-term account, does it have all the benefits of a traditional banking relationship? How much liquidity do you really need with your prepaid card?
If you can afford to set some of your cash aside, and you don’t use a checking account, it might make sense to use a prepaid card that offers a savings account — many have generous rates. Mango, for example, offers 6% APY on the savings account associated with its prepaid card.
Direct Deposit: Many banks reward their checking customers with lower fees if they use direct deposit, and some prepaid card companies have adopted the practice, too.
Mango drops its monthly fee for users who direct deposit more than $500 a month, making it as cheap or cheaper than many checking accounts.
If you’re going to be paying a monthly fee for prepaid, and your income is regular enough for direct deposit, you should either
a.) find a checking account that waives its fees for direct depositors or
b.) get a prepaid card that does the same.