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5 Benefits of Using Prepaid Cards


Prepaid cards are popular financial tools that can offer a unique blend of convenience, control and security. Whether you’re looking to stick to a budget, provide a spending solution for a family member or find an alternative to traditional banking, prepaid cards could be the answer.

A financial advisor can help you evaluate and select financial products that meet your needs. Connect with a fiduciary advisor today.

What Are Prepaid Cards?

Prepaid debit cards are loaded with a certain sum of money in advance and can be used in a manner similar to debit cards, but without the need for a linked bank account. This unique feature distinguishes prepaid cards from traditional debit cards, which draw funds directly from a checking account.

Unlike credit cards, which provide a line of credit to be repaid – often with added interest – prepaid cards have a built-in spending limit equivalent to the pre-loaded amount. This limit ensures that users can only spend what they have, which can help them manage spending and prevent overspending.

To understand how prepaid cards work, it’s essential to know the process of loading funds onto the card. This can be done via direct deposit, cash deposits at specific locations or bank transfers. Once the card is charged with funds, it can be used for transactions at any merchant that accepts the card’s payment network, such as Visa or Mastercard. After each transaction, the spent amount is deducted from the card’s balance. Users can track their remaining balance via online platforms, mobile applications or ATM machines, enabling them to monitor and control their spending effectively.

There are two primary categories of prepaid options: open-loop and closed-loop cards.

  • Open-loop cards: These prepaid cards are accepted widely as they are supported by established payment networks like Visa or Mastercard, offering users considerable flexibility in their spending choices.
  • Closed-loop cards: The closed-loop option is limited to specific merchants or locations, such as a particular retail store. These cards are typically free from additional fees and are often used as gift cards, limiting their use to purchases at the issuing retailer.

Benefits of Using Prepaid Cards

A woman activates a prepaid card using her laptop.

Here’s a look at the primary benefits of using prepaid cards:

1. No Credit or Bank Account Needed

For the millions of Americans who are unbanked or underbanked, prepaid cards offer a lifeline to financial services. Prepaid cards can provide a sense of financial inclusion, enabling essential transactions and autonomy in managing money. Getting a prepaid card also doesn’t require a credit check or any credit history.  

The process of obtaining a prepaid card is straightforward and accessible, bypassing the hurdles often associated with opening a bank account. This ease of access is particularly beneficial for the 5.9 million U.S. households that do not have any checking or savings accounts.

2. Manage Your Spending

One of the primary advantages of prepaid cards is the control they provide overspending. Unlike credit cards, prepaid cards operate on funds that users load onto them, which means there is no risk of accruing debt or interest charges. This makes them an excellent tool for budgeting and managing finances, especially for those who are prone to overspending or are new to managing money.

So, for example, if you’ve set a monthly budget of $500 for groceries and entertainment, you can load a prepaid card with the exact amount and track your spending as you go, ensuring that you stay within your budget. In this sense, prepaid cards can help prevent overspending by providing a clear limit.

3. More Secure Than Cash

Prepaid cards offer significant security advantages over cash. If you’ve ever lost cash, you know it’s gone for good, but a prepaid card can be locked or replaced, protecting your funds. Most prepaid cards are protected by the same security protocols as standard debit and credit cards, including PIN codes, chip technology and fraud monitoring services.

Additionally, because prepaid cards are not directly linked to a personal bank account, the potential financial impact of card theft or loss is minimized. Many issuers also offer the ability to freeze and unfreeze cards via apps, adding an extra layer of security.

While prepaid cards are protected by consumer laws and offer limited liability for unauthorized transactions, it’s still essential to exercise caution and protect your card information.

4. Limit Someone Else’s Spending

For parents, prepaid cards serve as a practical tool to teach teenagers about financial responsibility by setting spending limits and monitoring transactions. By setting a fixed allowance on a prepaid card, you can help a young person learn to manage money wisely.

5. Easily Add More Money

Adding money to a prepaid card is generally straightforward, with options like direct deposit, cash reloads at retail locations and bank transfers. This flexibility allows for immediate budget adjustments and accessibility, making it simple to manage financial resources in real time.

How to Get a Prepaid Card?

A man uses his cell phone to reload his prepaid card with additional funds.

Prepaid cards are readily available at a variety of retail outlets, including but not limited to Walmart, Target and Walgreens. Additionally, financial entities such as Chase, American Express and Green Dot offer an array of prepaid card options.

By following a few simple steps, you can enjoy the convenience that comes with owning a prepaid card. Here’s how you can proceed:

  • Choose a retailer or financial institution: Visit a retail store or explore options from financial providers such as Chase or American Express.
  • Compare card features: Evaluate the features of different prepaid cards, including any fees for usage, reloading mechanisms, ATM accessibility and whether the card is affiliated with a major network like Visa or MasterCard.
  • Understand the fees: Be aware of the types of fees associated with prepaid cards, such as activation fees, monthly fees, reload fees and transaction fees. This knowledge is crucial in selecting the most cost-effective option.
  • Check for network affiliation: A card affiliated with a major network like Visa or MasterCard may offer broader acceptance and additional benefits. However, it’s important to understand both the benefits and limitations of such affiliations.
  • Meet the requirements: Ensure you meet the fundamental prerequisites for acquiring a prepaid card, like possessing a valid government-issued identification document and purchasing the card using cash, a debit card or a bank transfer.
  • Activate the card: Certain prepaid cards may require online registration to activate and use the card’s comprehensive functionalities.

Bottom Line

Prepaid cards are financial tools that can offer can many benefits for budget management, travel and secure transactions without the need for a traditional bank account or credit check. They provide a sense of financial control and inclusion, particularly for the unbanked and those looking to structure their spending.

Banking Tips

  • If you’re in the market for a new bank or a new savings account, be sure to find one that offers competitive APY. Here’s a look at current savings account interest rates.
  • A financial advisor can help you figure out how to allocate your money to various types of accounts, including savings accounts, retirement funds and brokerage accounts. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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