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TheStreet Open House

The Harsh Reality of Celebrity Prepaid Cards

ATM fees
Regardless of upfront costs and monthly fees, ATM fees are the common ground. Western Union ($1.95 per transaction) and American Express ($2 per transaction) charge a fee for ATM withdrawals. Celebrity prepaid cards charge between $2 and $2.50 per transaction at ATMs, although Magic Johnson and Russell Simmons offer two complementary transactions per month.

The underbanked
Russell Simmons says his card is not only for those who've been rejected by banks. Nearly 30% of RushCard applicants over the past year had a bank checking account when they applied for the RushCard. Historically, it was impossible to use a prepaid card as a bank account, since before Bluebird you could not deposit your paycheck directly. If you don't have a bank account, you must rely on check cashing services to load a prepaid plastic with cash.

The RushCard, as well as most other celebrity and noncelebrity cards, requires a purchase of a Green Dot money voucher at up to $4.95 to reload a card with cash. The only way to avoid the fees is to set up a direct deposit with your employer. If you are a seasonal or a temporary employee, or if your employer is not looking to set you up with direct deposit, you may want to avoid a celebrity prepaid card, which come with higher monthly fees that can cost you as much as $119.40 annually -- as with the RushCard.





Why get the card?
Celebrity prepaid cards do tend to have higher fees. So why get one, aside from the obvious reverence to your favorite celebrity? Some come with special features. For example, as you might expect from Orman, you get free access to your credit report for a year when you buy her card. This can be a great feature if you're looking to get your credit back on track, but it has nothing to do with prepaid cards, since they do not report to credit bureaus. Lil Wayne's card gets you up to 25% discount at Ebates.com

These features fade in comparison with the power of American Express, whose prepaid card features such perks as roadside assistance, purchase protection, aid during international travel and access to discounts from American Express partners.

Like the reality shows that dominate TV, celebrity prepaid cards may come with more drama than they are worth. Prepaid cards can be really helpful, but they are new to the market and loosely regulated, so it pays to take a close look at the fees and features associated with them.

Michael Germanovsky is an expert in personal finance with in-depth knowledge of credit cards, charge cards, and prepaid cards. He began his writing career at the Novoye Russkoye Slovo, a partner of the New York Times International Weekly; and later authored a personal finance column at The Epoch Times. In 2011, Germanovsky created the Student Credit Card Education Initiative, designed to promote financial literacy and smart credit card use by young people. He is editor-in-chief at Credit-Land.com.
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