Prepaid payment cards are a recent phenomenon. They have exploded in popularity across America over the last 10 years and are now taking off in the UK.
What is a prepaid card?
The prepaid card is far from a new idea. How many of us have used a prepaid gift card or a prepaid mobile phone SIM card? The concept is basically the same. A prepaid card looks like a credit or debit card, and gives users the ability to purchase products and services with a card but with a crucial difference – you can only spend the balance that has been preloaded onto the card. This means there is no risk of running into debt as it has no credit or overdraft facility.
How do they work?
Money can be loaded on to a prepaid card by cash at a bank, Post Office, at Payzone or PayPoint terminals, bank transfer, through your employer or even by another credit card.
When using for purchasing at a high street store, they work in exactly the same way as a credit or debit card – you simply hand the card to the cashier. You will be asked to enter your PIN number (supplied with the card) on an electronic keypad or to sign a payment slip so your signature can be matched with that on the back of the card (if there is no Chip on the card). The total amount will be taken from your card immediately and the transaction is complete.
To shop online, you’ll find the item you want to buy and click on to the website’s “checkout” page before filling in your details and those of your prepaid card. As long as you have enough cash loaded on your card (the website checks this by the usual means of an authorisation), the purchase is completed and your item will be shipped to you.
Prepaid Card uses and benefits
The prepaid card may be a relatively new idea, but it has no shortage of uses, including:
- Buying groceries and petrol
- As a replacement for travellers cheques or travel cash for a low cost alternative to paying for goods and services abroad
- Topping up your mobile phone
- Internet shopping including eBay
- Paying bills
- Transferring money to friends and family either in the UK or overseas (known as remittance)
- Withdrawing cash from an ATM
They have particular appeal to those including
- People who wish to use foreign currency on a holiday
- Newly arrived immigrant, who although earning, cannot yet obtain credit due to having no credit footprint in the UK
- A person who has a poor credit rating or a history of bad debt who cannot get a credit card
- Parent of a young person travelling abroad.
What are the benefits of using a prepaid card?
There are numerous benefits to the prepaid card. These include:
- Availability – There are no credit checks, which means you can get a card without worrying about your credit history. All prepaid card providers will carry out an Identity check to confirm you are who you say you are.
- Control – prepaid cards are an ideal way to budget for yourself or help to manage your children’s spending. Like a credit card you get a full breakdown of spending on the card so you can see what has been purchased, who from and when.
- No debt risk – With a prepaid card there is no chance of spending too much as you are limited to the amount you put on your card.
- The card for travel – As well as being able to top up the card, depending on the specific provider, you will be able to use it at ATMs worldwide. Many providers now offer dollar and euro cards and offer a better exchange rate on their travel cards than what is commonly available from bureau de change.