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The Right Ways to Use a Prepaid Card

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Prepaid debit cards are widely criticized for charging high fees and offering few incentives to consumers. The criticism, in many instances, isn’t unwarranted. A study conducted by credit card ranking site NerdWallet found that some prepaid products can cost users up to $300 a year.

Still, they remain popular among the unbanked and those who have poor credit. Here are a few ways those using a prepaid card can minimize the fee damage.

Set up direct deposit.
A growing number of products will waive certain fees or charge lower ones if a person’s paycheck is being deposited onto the card. Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT), for instance, waives the $3 reloading fee associated with its Money Card and Western Union waives the $4.95 fee tacked onto its prepaid Visa (Stock Quote: V) when direct deposit is set up.

Replenish declining balances.
Other issuers will let you bypass fees if you load a certain amount of money onto the card in a 30-day period (which can be achieved by using direct deposit). For example, Mango Money’s Prepaid MasterCard (Stock Quote: MA) credits users their $5 maintenance fee if they load at least $500 onto the card during that period, and Capital One waives its $4.95 fee for the same reason.

Only use ATMs in your network. Similar to banks furnishing traditional checking accounts, some prepaid issuers waive ATM fees if you use machines in the networks they partner with. GreenDot (Stock Quote: GDOT), for instance, doesn’t charge when its cardholders use MoneyPass ATMs to withdraw their money. Out-of-network withdrawals cost $2.95. Suze Orman’s Approved Card doesn’t carry a fee when cardholders use AllPoint ATMs to withdraw their money, as long as the cardholder has directly deposited $20 onto the card in the past 30 days.

Go green. Paper statements, by and large, are going to cost you, while you can see them for free online. Additionally, some issuers won’t charge when you make payments electronically. Capital One’s (Stock Quote: COF) prepaid card, for instance, charges 95 cents to pay bills by paper, but doesn’t charge a dime when you pay electronically.

The number of prepaid debit cards on the market can be overwhelming. Find out which are among the best in this MainStreet article.

—Jeanine Skowronski is staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach her by email at Skowronski.jeanine@thestreet.com, or follow her on Twitter at @JeanineSko.

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