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How do I shop for and buy a prepaid card?

When you’re shopping for a prepaid card, compare different cards to see which ones have the features you want and the associated fees. Consider  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, often termed 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 the fees associated with various features.   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.

The Bureau’s rule requiring these fee disclosures came into effect April 1, 2019, although it may take some time before you start seeing the required disclosures on card packages in retail stores due to phase-in rules. In time, the card packaging will include a chart that contains certain key fees and other information about the prepaid account, to comparison shop between cards at the store. The packaging will also list a website with similar information regarding fees and other key information about the card. You may want to go online to review this additional information. 

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, often termed the “initial load”, plus the cost of the card. Some cards require a minimum initial load.

Registering your card 

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

  • 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. Until you register the card, your prepaid card provider is not required to provide protections in case of errors or loss or theft of your card. Also, if your card offers deposit insurance, you generally will need to register your prepaid card to become eligible for deposit insurance.