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We're the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a U.S. government agency that makes sure banks, lenders, and other financial companies treat you fairly.

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How do I shop for and buy a prepaid card?

Answer:

When you’re shopping for a prepaid card, compare different cards to see which ones have the features you want and what the fees are. Think about how you will use the card and look at the fees that you will pay for those uses. When you buy the card, you pay the initial amount that you want to load onto the card—the “initial load”—plus the cost of the card.

Shop to find the best card for you 

There are many types of prepaid cards. When you’re shopping, check to see that the card has the features you need and check what the fees are. If you’re shopping for a card at a retail location, you may want to go online or call customer service to learn about any fees that may not be disclosed on the card packaging. Fees and fee structures for prepaid cards can be very different. Asking a few questions can help you choose the right card for your situation

Decide where you will want to use the card, and make sure the card you pick can be used at those locations. Prepaid cards that feature a network brand (like Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover) can be used at any location that accepts that network brand. Other types of cards are good only at a specific store or group of stores, or on your public transportation system. Remember, prepaid cards may look like debit cards, credit cards, or gift cards, but they are often quite different.

When you buy 

You can buy prepaid cards at retail locations (such as grocery stores and drug stores), online, over the phone, or from some banks and credit unions. If you buy the card online, you may then be issued a virtual card, or you may receive a physical card in the mail at a later time.

When you buy a prepaid card, you’ll have to pay the initial amount that you want to load onto the card—the “initial load”—plus the cost of the card. Some cards require a minimum initial load.

Registering your card 

Some providers require you to register your card when you purchase it, or after you purchase it, by asking you to provide certain personal information, such as your:

  • Full name
  • Street address (no P.O. boxes) 
  • Date of birth
  • Email
  • Phone number 
  • Social Security number, taxpayer identification number, or other identifying number if you are not a U.S. citizen 

This personal information is used to verify your identity, which may be necessary before you can use certain card features, such as reloading money onto the card or using the card online or at an ATM. Registering your card may also provide certain protections in case of loss or theft of your card, because the prepaid card provider will know that you’re the rightful cardholder.

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The content on this page provides general consumer information. It is not legal advice or regulatory guidance. The CFPB updates this information periodically. This information may include links or references to third-party resources or content. We do not endorse the third-party or guarantee the accuracy of this third-party information. There may be other resources that also serve your needs.

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