NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Prepaid credit and debit cards are becoming a personal finance weapon of choice for more Americans.
According to a study last year from PewStates.org, U.S. prepaid card use grew to $64 billion in 2012 from $56.8 billion in 2011.
Additional data show Americans are coming to view prepaid cards as key elements in their banking and spending plans, with 59% of Americans with a checking account also using a prepaid card at least once per month.
"There are many reasons consumers use preloaded debit cards," says Ben Katz, chief executive at Los Angeles-based Card.com. "While some people are in situations where they cannot get a traditional bank account, others wish to avoid the inconveniences and high fees associated with traditional branch banking."
Card.com offers a look at the changing landscape of prepaid cards:
They are more used than thought, and are heavily used by middle class consumers. About 12 million Americans use prepaid cards, with most possessing a household income of more than $30,000 and having other debit and credit cards.
Consumers want to use them, instead of having to use them. Bad credit and too many bank overdrafts historically led to higher prepaid card use, but those days may be over. "The numbers indicate that the use of prepaid debit cards is no longer in the realm of 'I don't have a choice,'" Katz says. "Rather, it is a deliberate choice consumers are making."
Convenience is a big selling point. Technology has made the use of prepaid cards easier to use and added features. "[Take] real-time mobile smartphone deposits," he says. "You literally take a picture of a check, upload it to make your deposit, and the funds are immediately available." Consumers can also load up on network ATMs and use Western Union to add cash to their cards, adding to that convenience factor.
"People are busy," Katz said. "More and more, prepaid cards offer the convenience of being able to manage your money without having to go to a local branch."