Bankrate Releases Prepaid Card Study

Bankrate just released a study comparing prepaid card fees. Bankrate surveyed a total of 31 prepaid cards for the study. Interestingly, they didn’t include some top cards, such as Kaiku. But first, here are the findings from the Bankrate study:

Monthly Service Fees

  • 26% of the cards have no monthly fee, up from 17% last year, but still down from 38% (on a smaller sample size of 24 cards) two years ago.
  • The range of fees is $1 – $9.95, which is consistent with last year.
  • In addition to the eight cards with no monthly fee, eight more (26%) will waive the fee, usually based on having direct deposit, an amount automatically loaded on the card, or a linked checking account with that bank.
  • Altogether, 52% of the cards either have no monthly fee or will waive it (up from 50% last year).

Activation Fees

  • Nearly half (48%) have an activation fee ranging from $1.88 to $9.95, depending on where the card is purchased.
  • But 13% percent (up from 10% last year) do not charge an activation fee if the card is purchased online.

ATM Withdrawal Fees

  • Unlike bank accounts, where limiting your ATM withdrawals to the bank’s own ATMs is a surefire way to avoid fees, it is not so cut-and-dried with prepaid cards.
  • Twenty-nine percent of the cards are not associated with an ATM network. Of those with ATMs, 68% do not charge, while 32% charge a fee ranging from $1 – $2.50. These findings are consistent with last year.
  • All 31 cards assess a fee (ranging from $1 to $3) for going outside the ATM network.

ATM Balance Inquiry Fees

  • Checking the card balance at an ATM will typically cost you; 81% of the cards (up from 77% last year) charge a fee between $0.50 and $3 at some or all ATMs.
  • Thirteen percent (up from 10% last year) do not charge for balance inquiries at any ATMs, while six percent do not permit balance inquiries at the ATM.

Point-of-Sale Fees

  • These fees remain rare. On PIN-based transactions, 77% of the cards do not charge a fee. On signature-based transactions, 87% of cards do not charge a fee. Of the few cards that do charge this fee, the range is $0.50 – $2 for PIN transactions and $0.50 – $1 on signature transactions.

Monthly Statement Fees

  • Fifty-five percent charge for receiving account statements by mail, with fees ranging from $1 to $5.95.
  • Thirty-five percent don’t charge to receive paper statements in the mail, while 10% don’t even offer mailed statements.
  • Only 6% of cards offer paper statements at ATMs, and all charge either $1 or $2.50.

Customer Service Fees

  • Customer service fees are declining sharply. Just 16% of cards charge for customer service calls, down from 27% last year.
  • The fees range from $0.50 to $4.95 depending on the nature of the call.

Declined Transaction Fees

  • Seventy-one percent do not charge for declined transactions under any circumstances, while 6% charge $1 for any declined transaction.
  • Twenty-three percent of cards charge between $0.75 and $2 only for transactions declined at the ATM (up from 10% last year).

Inactivity Fees

  • Eighty-four percent of the cards do not charge an inactivity fee, virtually unchanged from last year.
  • Among the 16% that do charge, the monthly inactivity fees range from $1.95 to $5.95.

Overdraft Fees

  • Ninety-four percent of cards do not permit overdraft on purchases. The cost is similar to that of bounced checks and ranges from $15 – $34.

Bill Payment Fees

  • Only 6% of the cards charge a fee, ranging from $0.50 – $0.95.

Reload Fees

  • None of the issuers that Bankrate surveyed charge reload fees.

In some respects, the findings were expected. Several top cards can be used for little if any fees. These include the Walmart MoneyCard, Green Dot, American Express Bluebird, and American Express Serve. Somewhat more surprising are a few prepaid cards that didn’t make the list.

As noted above, the Kaiku Prepaid Visa Card didn’t make the list. Kaiku has extremely low fees and excellent features. The study also left out Card.com. With branded prepaid cards from Star Trek to The Walking Dead, Card.com has a fee structure that allows consumers to use the card for free under the right circumstances.

You can check out details of the Bankrate study here.