credit & debt

The Fees and Shortcomings of Celebrity-Endorsed Prepaid Debit Cards

They may be trendy, but these cards carry fees and won't help you build credit.

Prepaid debit cards are the latest fashion statement. From hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons’s RushCard to Suze Orman’s new Approved Card, debt-leery consumers are turning to these highly hyped products.

But packing a prepaid card has more cons than pros. The RushCard costs $4 to $15, depending on the design you select. Monthly fees as of March 1 range from $6 to $8 (including two free ATM withdrawals per month). The Approved Card costs less: $3 to buy and $3 a month to use after the first month; withdrawals at Allpoint ATMs are free, if you deposit $20 each month. But for all that, your usage will not be reported to the credit bureaus. As Ben Woolsey, director of consumer research for CreditCards.com, explains, "Prepaid cards have no utility in helping someone build credit."

A secured card can be a better option. You deposit as little as $49 -- or as much as $10,000, depending on the issuer -- and that sum becomes your credit limit. Issuers report your usage to the three major credit bureaus, and you may even earn interest on the money on deposit. Annual fees range from $25 for the Wells Fargo Secured Visa to $39 for the BankAmericard Fully Secured Visa. You generally qualify for an unsecured card after using a secured one responsibly for a year.

If you still think a prepaid card is the way to go, the American Express prepaid card is an option. There is no charge for the card if you order it online, and there are no monthly fees. You get one free ATM withdrawal per month. Using the card for six months helps you build a financial history with Amex, which may help you qualify for an Amex charge card.

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