Behold The Amazing Disappearing Prepaid Debit Card

It seemed like a good idea at the time. When Jim’s wife received a bonus at her job in the form of a prepaid debit card from the First National Bank of Omaha, they chose to put it away for an emergency. What they didn’t realize is that prepaid debit cards combine all of the arbitrary fees of banks with all of the general crappiness of a gift card, only worse. Much worse. By the time the couple went to use the card, the entire balance had been gobbled up by fees. Fees levied for not using the card.

Two years ago, my wife was surprised when her workplace issued bonuses not as a check, but as a debit card. It was basically one of those nice disposable cards that you call to activate, then spend as if it were a normal debit card. We checked the back of the card for the note that fees apply “after activation.” That settled, we set the card aside for when we might need that money, since the terms on it were quite clear that we accrued no fees until activation. The expiration date on the card gave us several years, so we decided that bonus money would be used in the case of an emergency.

Fast forward 1.5 years to two months ago. Family emergency erupts, requiring lots of plane travel and whatnot. Time for that card!

I pull out the card from our secret storage spot and verify the expiration. Still two full months, yay (and whoops for letting it go that long)! I call the activation number…and get a “line has been disconnected, call this other number” recording. Well that’s scary. I call the new number…get a busy tone. Repeat this about a hundred times over the next few weeks, sometimes getting through and then disconnected.

Finally, on 10/6 I get through (but the card expired on 10/1…) to explain to someone what has happened and see if I can just get the card reissued, given the expiration date. The rep confirms the amount on the card–which is still the original amount, with no service fees, as expected–and says they’ll happily reissue with a $20 fee for the new card. I agree, but she says that I need to call on Monday, as only a manager can reissue.

I call back on Monday the 10th and am told that they will not reissue the card under any circumstances. They tell me that they have seized the value of the card and I will not be allowed to have it back. After about half an hour of polite arguing, I am told that they will reissue the card for $25…and a per-month fee of 5-10% on the original value dating back to original issue date (20 months ago). Yes, that means they will send me zero dollars, if I’m willing to pay $25 for the honor.

At this point, I explain that I will not pay $25 to recoup zero dollars out of the hundreds that was on the card a week ago. I asked how they could justify seizing the money that had been issued to my wife by her employer, especially when the only reason it passed the expiration was the fault of their system. The rep (a manager, I might add) explained that they are in Nebraska and there are no usury laws there…as such, they are under no obligation to allow me access to our money, and they can change the terms of the agreement as often as they like, up to and including a 100% “maintenance fee.” They went on to state that if i don’t like it (yeah, I really don’t), I can drive to Nebraska and talk to their lawyers, as that’s the only way I’ll see a penny.

Not the best customer service I’ve ever seen.