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What types of fees do prepaid cards typically charge?

With most prepaid cards you will have to pay some fees for holding or using the card. The kinds of fees and the amounts vary depending on the card and how it’s used.  Think about how you plan to use the card and compare the fees on different cards for those particular uses. 

Below is a list outlining the types of fees that prepaid cards may charge. Not all prepaid cards charge the same fee or offer the same services. Some cards may have other fees in addition to the ones listed below or may use different words to describe similar fees.

Common fees for prepaid cards

Monthly fee

A monthly fee is a fixed fee you pay each month even if you don’t use the card. The fee is automatically deducted from your account balance. Some cards may waive the monthly fee under certain circumstances.  For example, some prepaid cards waive the monthly fee if you have your pay or benefits directly deposited into your prepaid account. If you use your card frequently, a monthly fee may be cheaper for you than paying a fee for each transaction.

Transaction fee

A transaction fee is a fee charged every time you use the card for certain types of transactions, such as purchases made in stores or online. Your card provider might charge transaction fees under a “pay-as-you-go” plan. Some cards let you choose between a plan that charges transaction fees and one that charges a single monthly fee.

In-network / out-of-network ATM withdrawal fee

Individual banks and ATMs belong to different networks. The bank that issues your prepaid card may belong to one or more of these networks. An ATM may be in-network or out-of-network depending on your particular card and the particular network to which an ATM belongs. Depending on the terms of your cardholder agreement, you may pay less or be able to avoid ATM fees by using your prepaid card at in-network ATMs. 

Balance inquiry fee

You may be charged a balance inquiry fee if you check your prepaid card balance at an ATM or call customer service to ask about your balance. Not all prepaid cards charge the same fees to check your balance, with most cards offering at least one free option to check account balance.  For example, you might be able to check your balance online for free or request the balance information by email or text. Check your cardholder agreement to learn about fees that apply to checking your balance and how to check your balance for free.

Cash reload fee

A cash reload fee is a fee imposed by the retail location for adding money to your card.  Most prepaid cards provide other options for loading money to your card, including direct deposit, which may save you money by avoiding the cash reload fee.

Paper statement fee

Some prepaid cards charge a fee if you request paper statements for your prepaid card. You may be able to go online to get a statement, or at least a list of your recent card purchases and other transactions, without a fee. Under the CFPB’s prepaid rule, you have the right to get information about your account for free. Unless they provide monthly statements, the prepaid card provider has to give you, without a fee, balance information by phone, transaction history online, and, should you request it, transaction history by mail. Please note that you may be charged a fee for a mailed transaction history in some cases.  

Decline fee

A decline fee is a fee charged if you attempt to use your card for something that costs more than the amount of money you have left on your card. Many prepaid cards do not charge decline fees.

Inactivity fee

An inactivity fee is charged if you don’t use your card for a certain period of time. The length of time that triggers an inactivity fee can vary and not all prepaid cards charge inactivity fees.

Card-to-card transfer fee

You may be charged a fee if you transfer money between two prepaid cards. This is called a card-to-card or person-to-person transfer fee. Some card providers allow you to transfer money between cards online without a fee.

Bill payment fee

Some prepaid cards let you pay your bills online through the card provider’s website. Your prepaid card provider may charge a fee each time you use the program to pay a bill.

If you plan to use your prepaid account to pay bills, compare these fees before you select a card. You may also want to consider whether there are less costly ways to pay your bills, such as setting up a direct payment through the company you are paying.

Card replacement fee

Your prepaid card provider may charge a fee to replace your card if it is lost, stolen or damaged.

Additional card fee

Some prepaid providers let you get an extra card for another person you designate as an “authorized user” of your prepaid card account. An authorized user can spend your money and you may be charged a fee for the additional card. 

Any new authorized users will also need to register online or call customer service to verify their identity. 

Foreign transaction fee

A foreign transaction fee is a fee your card provider charges when you use your prepaid card in a foreign country.  This fee, sometimes called a currency conversion fee, is usually a percentage of your purchase, withdrawal, or other transaction, rather than a flat fee. Not all cards can be used outside the United States, so check your cardholder agreement before you travel or use your card as payment in a foreign currency.

Card cancellation fee

You can cancel a prepaid card at any time. You usually won’t pay a fee to cancel your card but there may be a fee to obtain a check for the remaining balance on the card. To avoid the fee, you can spend down or withdraw the remaining funds before cancelling the card.

Remember, if you’re considering getting a prepaid card, think about how you plan to use the card and then keep that in mind when assessing which prepaid card’s fees work best for you and your needs. 

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.