Prepaid credit cards offer millions of unbanked Americans an alternative to traditional banking. With the number of prepaid card options growing each year, card providers look for new ways to set themselves apart. That’s where name recognition comes into play. We’re not talking about Visa or MasterCard, we’re talking about celebrity like the Kardashians or Justin Bieber. A celebrity attaching his or her name to a prepaid card serves as a great marketing opportunity, but are the cards really any help to consumers? Probably not, seeing as most of the cards are riddled with fees.
Since the celebrity cards came on the scene they’ve been criticized for high fees.
The now defunct Kardashian Kard was laden with fees and after just three weeks was canceled. The credit card company that partnered with the Kardashians for the card sued the family for breach of contract after they sent a termination letter to stop the company from using their likeness.
Last April, it was announced that Justin Bieber had endorsed a prepaid debit card for the SpendSmart Payments Company. That card comes with a monthly fee of $3.95 just to have the card; loading fees of $2.95 if you re-up with a credit card or $0.75 from a checking account (unless you schedule an automated payment once a month); $1.50 just to take money out of any ATM, plus whatever fees the ATM charges; $0.50 for balance inquiries at ATMs; $7.95 for a replacement card; and $3 for 30 days of inactivity.
In August, MyBankTracker compared the fees of five prepaid cards with celebrity attachment, including the MYPLASH card featuring the cast of Twilight, the SpendSmart Justin Bieber card, RushCard, Kardashian Kard, and a prepaid MasterCard endorsed by Magic Johnson.
Activation and monthly fees for the cards ranged from $0 to $9.95, while use of ATMs ranged from free for in-network to $1.95 per transaction.
But one of the first prepaid cards backed by a celebrity, the RushCard, has apparently revamped their fee structure, says card backer Russell Simmons. The RushCard, which launched in 2003, is a partnership between music mogul Simmons and Visa.
“When I started my financial services company there was nothing like it and the idea was my friend didn’t have a bank account and couldn’t get a bank account and had to operate in cash,” he recently told Consumer Reports. “It locked him out of the American Dream.”
In a 2013 Consumer Reports study, the RushCard was found to have high fees for activation, monthly maintenance and reloading. The only celebrity backed card to score higher was the Suze Orman prepaid MasterCard.
“We did well, but we’ll do better next time,” he said. “You gotta pick the phone up and be responsible to consumers, a lot of what you cited as issues in terms of fees and things, they’re gone. We learn everyday.”
In addition to dropping fees, Simmons said the company recently added 23,000 free MoneyPass ATMs and now give consumers their money two days earlier.
“There are so many variables to rate,” he said. “We don’t charge when you call or when you lose your card. If you were to do a comparative study today, we’d be good, we’d be great.”
The RushCard offers two plans, The Rush Unlimited Plan, which offers a monthly fee of $7.95 or $5.95 for every month you’re enrolled and use direct deposit. The plan also comes with unlimited PIN or signature transactions, as well as, no ATMs at the over 23,000 MoneyPass ATMs.
The Pay As You Go Plan comes with no months fee, but charges $1 for each PIN or signature transaction capped at $10 each month. The plan also comes no ATM fees at MoneyPass ATMs.
While prepaid cards are convenient and everyone likes to feel connected to a celebrity, it might just be safer to get a prepaid card from your bank or try a traditional banking account.