Finding Prepaid Debit Cards

If you are in the market for a prepaid card, you might wonder where you can find them in a retail outlet. Odds are, many of the places you already shop offers prepaid cards. They are available at these retail chains:

  • Jewel Foods
  • Walgreens
  • CVS
  • Dominicks
  • 7-11
  • Rite-Aid
  • Wal Mart
  • K-Mart

In fact, these cards are nearly ubiquitous these days. You might ask, “Where can I find them once I am in the store?” They typically are hanging on the display rack along with gift cards and prepaid phone cards. Look for card displays on end caps of aisles, especially near the check out registers. Sometimes they are also hanging at each check out aisle. In a store like Wal Mart, there’s an area up front (past the checkouts) known as the Money Center. Here you’ll find prepaid cards, and Greendot MoneyPaks, which is a not a prepaid card but a method for loading a prepaid card. You pay $4.95 for the MoneyPak and then give the cashier the amount of money you want to put on the Pak. Then you call a toll free number and transfer the full amount on the Moneypak to your prepaid card. You can’t really do both in the same trip, because it takes a while for your application for a prepaid card to be approved and activated. You be approved for activation, you have to provide your personal information, including government issued identification such as social security number and your date of birth. This is required under the U.S. Patriot Act to prevent misuse of the card.

Alternatively, in anywhere in the United States, you can go online and apply for a card. There’s no cost to apply, and no credit check. This is true for any prepaid debit card you might want to order. There are a bewildering array of brand names on these cards. Fact is, only a handful of banks issue the card (meaning control the funds on the card) and Visa and MasterCard are the two debit networks used by the card and that’s what logo you will see on it. Wherever Visa or MasterCard debit is accepted is where you can use the card. If you are going to travel internationally, be sure you have a card that is accepted Internationally like the MiCash card, for example.

There is a trend of colleges moving to prepaid cards as a way to disperse student loan money. For example, City Colleges of Chicago launched a program that about a third of its students who receive student loans adopted. They have three choices at this school for how to get their student loan money:

  • Paper Check (costs the college money to print and mail)
  • Direct deposit to a checking account or any prepaid card
  • Prepaid Card set up by the college

Urban areas have a higher concentration of the unbanked than found in rural or suburban environments. There are millions of people who have trouble getting a traditional checking account and hence a traditional debit card. There millions more with bad credit. For these unbanked or underserved folks, prepaid cards make sense. They have fees, such as a monthly fee, and a fee every time you buy something with the card (e.g., 95 cents). However, often they are more cost effective than alternatives, such as getting a paper check and having to then cash it at a check cashing place.

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