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Prepaid and gift cards are financial instruments that are affordable for most people. Easy to buy, you can use them as a debit card or to start your credit history. If you've heard about prepaid cards and want to learn more, here's how they can help you improve your finances.
What is a prepaid card and how does it work?
In the wide world of banking products, prepaid cards are plastic cards that serve as a different way to pay or buy. Like gift cards, you can load them with a certain amount of money for your spending.
These are particularly suitable for those who do not have an account, do not want to carry cash and/or are looking to control their spending.
The operation is very simple. After buying it in a trusted financial institution, you must put money on it as if it were the balance of a cell phone.
While the limit is set by the issuer, you do not have to worry about accumulating debt with interest and when you apply for it you will not suffer a soft/hard credit inquiry of your history.
Likewise, you have the possibility of recharging as many prepaid cards as you want and as you deem necessary. You have to see them as a kind of debit card that you can use in stores, online merchants and ATMs.
When you run out of funds, you reload it again. Like other instruments it has a PIN, expiration date and some associated fees.
How to load or reload your prepaid card
The prepaid card loading process is also very easy. Generally you have 4 options:
|The banks that sell these products let you do this operation for your convenience. There are also gas stations, stores and post offices that allow recharges through the PayPoint service.
|Either through the app or the issuer's website, you have to log in to your account to do this process. The advantage of this alternative is that you can use a credit card or debit card to add money to it.
|Through a third party
|You can tell a third party to charge your balance when you need it. For example, parents can pass money to their children or you can tell your employer to transfer your salary to the plastic if you don't have an account.
|Prepaid cards have a number and a CVV assigned to them like other plastic cards. The provider provides you with the necessary information to load your card from your bank account.
Advantages and disadvantages of prepaid cards
Prepaid cards can be very useful in certain cases, but they also have certain limitations compared to other instruments, such as credit and debit cards. When talking about their benefits, we can mention:
- They do not include credit inquiries. When you buy one, they will not check your credit history to give it to you.
- You will not suffer from overdrafts. What the plastic is charged is what you can spend. Therefore, you do not incur charges for insufficient funds or overdraft.
- They help you manage your budget. You can allocate a certain amount each month to meet your commitments and thus avoid any unnecessary expenses.
- Greater security when traveling. You can load it with the currency you need (USD, EUR and more) and in case of theft or loss, you block it so they can send you a new one.
As for its cons, we cannot ignore the following:
- Fees. Along with the initial payment, there are prepaid cards that charge you for using them at ATMs and have a monthly fee.
- Charges for purchases. Depending on the plastic or where you use it, you may be charged a small percentage for buying goods or services.
- They do not offer protection. Compared to a credit card, the prepaid card does not offer you coverage when you purchase a good and it is defective or you want to return it.
Difference between gift cards and prepaid cards
The dynamics of gift cards are not very different from prepaid cards. The basic differences can be summarized as follows:
- Gift cards usually do not include fees.
- The expiration date is much shorter.
- The available amount of a gift card tends to be between $10 and $500. Prepaid cards usually allow higher amounts.
- Generally, you cannot reload a gift card to continue using it.
- There are open-loop and close-loop gift cards. The former are more similar to prepaid cards and the latter only work with a specific store or brand (Amazon, Costco, Target, Walmart, etc.).
Prepaid cards to start or repair your credit history
There are some prepaid cards that can help you correct past mistakes, improve your credit score, or start from scratch, by starting your credit history.
Because of their monthly fees, complying with their conditions religiously allows you to improve your score because your responsibility and punctuality are duly reported to the major credit bureaus.
Español: Mejores tarjetas prepagadas