7 On Your Side, Consumer Reports reveals best prepaid cards

Prepaid re-loadable cards are growing rapidly in popularity as a way to manage money.

You can acquire the cards in stores, banks, or online. They're an easy way to pay for purchases, and they can take the place of a traditional bank account. Consumer Reports has analyzed the terms of 20 cards and has advice on the best ones you should get.

Catherine French, her mother, and son all use prepaid cards. For James French, it takes the place of a bank account. "I've used it almost anywhere from restaurants to convenience stores, gas stations, anywhere," he said.

Catherine said the prepaid card makes it easy to give James only what he needs for school and to avoid the perils of a credit card. "I know I'm not going to let him loose with my credit card with his name on it," Catherine said.

Consumer Reports evaluated the terms of 20 prepaid cards and says they are better than they used to be. "One of the big improvements is safety. All of the prepaid car issuers we checked now voluntarily offer some of the same protections as bank-issued credit and debit
cards," Consumer Reports Chief Money Editor Margot Gilman said.

However, you must register your card to get those protections, and since they are only voluntary, they could be revoked.

Consumer Reports also evaluated the cards for value and convenience. "For those who use the cards in place of a bank account, it's important to be able to pay bills, add money and withdraw cash, without incurring a lot of fees," Gilman said.

The lowest-rated card is the NetSpend Prepaid Visa. Pay-As-You-Go has relatively high fees and there's always a fee to use the ATM. In response, NetSpend said it offers: "A feature rich product that may not be comparable to prepaid card programs (Consumer Reports) reviewed."

"The highest-rated prepaid cards work well for those who use them instead of a bank account as well as those who use them for shopping," Gilman said.

The ones with low fees, safety protections and widely accepted are the Bluebird from American Express and Walmart, Chaseliquid issued by Chase, the Green Dot prepaid Visa.

The government's Consumer Financial Protection Board is expected to issue new regulations for prepaid cards this Spring.

They will guarantee protections for lost and stolen cards, and make it easier to understand and compare fees.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2014. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
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