News Column

Consumer Reports OK's 3 Prepaid Debit Cards

July 31, 2013

Mark Davis

H&R Block emerald card

July 31--Consumer Reports included H&R Block's Emerald Prepaid MasterCard as one of three to earn its recommendation in its first review of the popular payment option.

A prepaid card works by drawing on cash that the customer loaded onto the card in advance of shopping. The shopper swipes the card just as a debit or credit card user does.

Consumers can reload prepaid cards like the one H&R Block issues and use them repeatedly.

In a statement, Kansas City-based H&R Block said it had issued nearly 3 million Emerald cards last year and that more than $9 billion had been loaded on them. Shoppers have loaded more than $50 billion onto Emerald Cards since Block introduced them in 2006 as a way to receive tax refunds.

"Consumer Reports has validated the prepaid category with this first-ever report. Prepaid really is a mainstream financial product," Susan Ehrlich, president of H&R Block Financial Services, said in the statement.

Much of Consumer Reports' review focused on fees that prepaid card issuers charge and how well they disclose those fees and other terms to consumers.

Its analysis tracked activation fees, monthly fees, reloading fees, point of sale fees, online bill pay fees, automatic teller machine fees both for ATMs on the issuers network and on other networks, customer service fees both automated and live, and care replacement fees.

The review also considered convenience, safety and the overall value of the card or how much it costs to use.

Block's Emerald card earned a "very good" rating from Consumer Reports as did the Bluebird card with direct deposit from American Express and the Green Dot Card from Green Dot Bank.

These three received Consumer Reports' recommendation to use though none of the 26 cards reviewed had earned what it called an "excellent" score.

"Compared to many of the other cards, the three recommended cards have relatively few fees, and skip annoying fees, such as charging card holders for calling customer service, and 'surprise' fees, such as charging card holders for spending their own money with the card," the report said.

The three cards also scored well for having "easily accessed and clearly stated fee information, which is important because it enables comparison shopping," Consumer Reports said.

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372 or send email to mdavis@kcstar.com.

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