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Sizing up Suze Orman's new prepaid card

It has some nice features, but consumers who opt for a prepaid card could do better elsewhere.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 10, 2012 10:00AM

This post comes from AnnaMaria Andriotis at partner site SmartMoney.


SmartMoney on MSN MoneyATM withdrawal fees. Monthly maintenance fees. Fees to speak with live customer service agents. A new prepaid card unveiled Monday comes with the same fees that have accompanied these cards for years -- only this time it's not being marketed by big banks but by TV celebrity Suze Orman.


Prepaid cards allow cardholders to deposit money into an account and to draw on those funds for purchases or cash withdrawals. They're largely used by consumers who want to avoid going into debt with a credit card and by teens and young adults as a way to learn how to manage money.


But prepaid card fees can quickly eat into a cardholder's balance, and the so-called Approved Card From Suze Orman that's issued by The Bancorp Bank is no exception, say experts: It includes a $3 purchase fee to get the card, a $3 monthly account maintenance fee, up to $2 for each ATM withdrawal, and as much as $2 to speak with a customer service agent.


"It doesn't do much to separate itself from the pack," says Odysseas Papadimitriou, chief executive at Card Hub, a credit card comparison site that also studies prepaid cards. Post continues below.

For her part, Suze Orman says she set out to develop an affordable prepaid card. True, the monthly fee is lower than the average $4.56 monthly fee charged by prepaid cards, according to Card Hub. And in a conference call Monday, Orman said cardholders can avoid ATM fees by making a deposit of at least $20 per month to their prepaid card and withdrawing strictly from ATMs in the Allpoint network, which has more than 35,000 locations. She adds that some of the fees -- like the monthly maintenance fee -- couldn't be avoided because of rules and regulations.


Orman says the card also helps cardholders make smart decisions while spending. For example, when consumers make a withdrawal from an ATM outside of the Allpoint network, they'll receive a text from Orman asking why they're wasting money on fees, which can range between $1 and $2 per withdrawal. Separately, as consumers use the card for purchases and other activities, they'll receive email or text updates on their balance.


But once again, there is little reason for consumers to go through all this hassle, say consumer advocates. There are plenty of debit cards that are free and easy to use. For example, you'd likely be better off by opening a checking account with a credit union and getting a debit card issued, says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at Smart Credit, a credit-monitoring site. Orman says her prepaid card can be used as an alternative by consumers who aren't happy with their bank.


And consumers who opt for a prepaid card could be better served with an alternative option. For someone who receives a monthly paycheck of at least $2,000 and uses the ATM at least once a week, the Green Dot Gold Prepaid Visa card comes out to $0 a month, according to a study by Card Hub.


To be sure, Orman's prepaid card does come with some features that could prove helpful, including an "emergency fund" that allows cardholders to set aside money that can't be spent by accident. "It can help people add some discipline to their spending and budget more effectively," says Papadimitriou. The card is supposed to begin offering an interest rate for cardholders who save money on their account later this year.


And there could be more bonus features to come that are new to prepaid cards. Orman says she hopes activity on the card will ultimately be reported to the credit bureaus and count toward a consumer's credit report.


As of now, prepaid card usage (like debit card usage) does not help build credit scores since it's not reported to the three major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. But over the next 18 to 24 months, TransUnion will be evaluating Approved cardholder transactions to determine whether they can be used to predict consumer behavior.


More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:

Jan 10, 2012 3:40PM
Never cared much for her.  She doesn't follow the advice she gives others because she is in a different financial place than her viewers.  She isn't much different than Oprah or Martha Stewart.  They are building their own empires.  I don't understand peoples need to have someone tell them what they think and do. 
Jan 13, 2012 8:28PM

She is not a financial wizard. Her advise is basic.. She capitalizes on people who are clueless about finances & the law.  People...research your problems for the solutions. instead of asking this idiot

Jan 14, 2012 3:04PM
I did always think it was all about her, like the fact that she doesn't even follow her own advice.. I'll bet some of those fees end up in her pocket too.  What a ridiculous product.  If a person can't handle a debit card, then they should just deal in cash.
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