Experts: Prepaid debit cards fees can add up

July 10, 2013 12:19:06 PM PDT
Prepaid debit cards are a big hit with younger people because they do not have to be tied to a bank account. But in many cases, the cards charge fees that make it pricey to use your own money.

Paying with plastic is the number one option for many people. But many young people are skipping bank accounts and using prepaid debit cards instead.

"There is a demand for it but in large part there is a population that is uneducated about the banking system, and they may have distrust of the banking system," said Alex Obregon, chair of the Bank on Houston financial education committee.

Obregon says those who use prepaid debit cards may not realize the fees can add up.

"You have to pay money to use a prepaid debit card and there are alternatives out there where you can get into a low- or no-cost banking account that won't charge you the same fees as a prepaid debit card," Obregon said.

Cardhub.com survey of prepaid debit cards found 62 percent of the available prepaid card offers lack the features needed to meet basic consumer needs like online bill paying and free check loading.

Obregon says many who use the cards think banking is not as easy, but he disagrees.

"The alternative is also just as easy, it's as much as calling up Bank on Houston, or calling our office and getting yourself into a bank account," he said.

Obregon says Bank on Houston does more than establish a place to put money.

"Just because you are in an account does not mean you will have healthy financial habits, so the goal is to get you an account and also get you enrolled in a financial education program that gives you the tools to be financially successful," Obregon said.

There are reasons to use prepaid debit cards: Shopping online won't compromise banks accounts and you can't go over your limit. But if you are using prepaid debit cards, shop around because some have lower fees than others.

If you are interested in establishing a bank account, the city of Houston has a website that details where you can open fee friendly accounts.

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