Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, a presence at the Occupy Wall Street movement, has made prepaid cards directed at the working class a part of his empire. Simmons is the founder of UniRush, the financial services company that has put the RushCard into the hands of more than 1.5 million people.
Last week, Simmons’ prepaid card was a cause of contention among protesters. Occupy Wall Street protesters asked the mogul about his credit cards. Simmons replied, “I don’t run sh*t” and “I’m ready to pay more taxes.”
The RushCard is an item Simmons has pushed as a tool to rebuild credit history.
“It’s very inexpensive, it builds credit, you can transfer your money card-to-card, you don’t have to go to Western Union and spend a fortune. You don’t have to get on line at a check cashing place,” Simmons told Forbes magazine in March.
But, using prepaid cards may not be the best way to improve credit. A report from Consumers Union states, “it is not clear whether these nontraditional reporting mechanisms actually help consumers establish good credit and credit scores.” One prepaid company discloses the reporting and scoring may be effective in obtaining a mortgage, but will not help with other “loans, credit cards or insurance policies.”
The defense of the card followed the controversy of the now withdrawn Kardashian Kard, a prepaid debit card offered by sisters Kim, Khloe and Kourtney. The card promoters came under fire for marketing a prepaid debit towards young adults and charging exorbitant fees. The Kardashian Prepaid MasterCard charged consumers $59.95 to use the card for six months, $99.95 for a year, and $7.95 for each additional month. The card’s monthly fee fell $2 below the RushCard at $7.95 a month.
“The RushCard is the embodiment of my message of empowerment because it is a better and more transparent option for millions of under-banked and unbanked Americans who often suffer at the hands of large financial institutions,” Russell Simmons wrote in a statement to ABCNews.com.
Monthly fees are a common part of prepaid cards. A few of the worries surrounding prepaid cards is the lack of consumer protection if there is a billing mistake or fraudulent charges and proper fee disclosure, said Michael McCauley, a spokesperson for Consumers Union.
“We don’t have a brick and mortar. We have technology. We can do it cheaper than banks in most cases,” Simmons told Forbes.
The RushCard has two plans listed on its Website: Pay As You Go and a Monthly Plan. The cards are favored by people who have trouble getting a bank account.
The monthly plan for the RushCard charges prepaid users is $9.95 and tacks on a convenience charge of $1 for PIN transactions but signature transactions, which are most commonly used by cardholders, are free. The Pay-as-You Go plan has no monthly fee. And, the $1 convenience charge for the card is capped at $10 per month. There is a one-time card fee for each cardholder that varies. Users can add funds to the card as needed.
Russell Simmons believes the customer has a number of vehicles in which to customize the fees and to optimize the cost of carrying the card and that all our fees are communicated clearly and with complete transparency, said Rob Rosenblatt, CEO of RushCard.
In a match-up of prepaid credit cards by CreditCards.com, monthly fees for such cards ranged from $0 to $14.95.
According to the Survey of Consumer Payment Choice (SCPC) by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 32 percent of consumers have a prepaid card and 19 percent of consumers have a prepaid card with a Visa, MasterCard, Amex or Discover logo.
For many consumers, the better deal is still small or big banks.
McCauley says ”you can still get a cheaper account at a bank compared to a prepaid card.”
In his recent visit to Zuccotti Park, Simmons, a self-made millionaire and philanthropist, brought Kanye West, who wore a flannel shirt and several gold chains to the event.
Following his trip, Simmons tweeted about money and fame.
“There is nothing good about fame unless it inspires happiness in others. In fact w/out this recognition it causes sadness,” he continued.
To critics of his lifestyle, Simmons wrote in a series of tweets: “Mad cause I got a mayback? I run 4 charities and sit on boards of many more” before lyrics by rapper Jadakiss, “Why I can’t come though in a pecan jag.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story erroneously reported the RushCard monthly plan applied a $1 fee for every purchase.