Consumer Reports ranked 26 prepaid debit card offerings from best to worst, and reported that bank prepaid cards were not necessarily cheaper than other products.
Last year, prepaid cards were used in 1.3 billion transactions that totaled $77 billion, according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation. By the end of 2014, a projected $167 billion will be loaded onto prepaid card accounts, an expected increase of 42 percent from the amount loaded in 2010, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In its report released on Tuesday, "Prepaid Cards: How They Rate on Value, Convenience, Safety and Fee Accessibility and Clarity," the magazine reported that fee information was "often hard to find and difficult to understand.
"This problem is compounded by a lack of consistency in fee names and descriptions across cards, which makes it difficult for consumers to compare fees and costs across prepaid cards," the report states.
Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, has tracked the prepaid card industry as it has matured and rated the 26 card offerings on value, convenience, safety and fee accessibility and clarity.
|1. Bluebird with direct deposit (American Express)|
Score: 80/100. Recommended by Consumer Reports. No activation fee or monthly fee.
|2. H&R Block Emerald Prepaid MasterCard|
Score: 78/100. Recommended by Consumer Reports. No activation fee or monthly fee.
|3. Green Dot Card (Green Dot Bank)|
Score: 75/100. Recommended by Consumer Reports. $4.95 activation fee and $5.95 monthly fee. If you get a waiver or discount, there is no monthly fee.
|4. Approved Prepaid MasterCard (Suze Orman) with direct deposit|
Score: 69/100. $3 activation fee and $3 monthly fee.
|5. Approved Prepaid MasterCard (Suze Orman) without direct deposit|
Score: 67/100. $3 activation fee and $3 monthly fee.
|1. AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid Card (MetaBank)|
Score: 36/100. No activation fee and $9.95 monthly fee. AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid card has four fees: a monthly fee, an out of network ATM fee, a fee for a reload at retail, and a replacement card fee.
|2. Reach Visa Prepaid Card (Tom Joyner)|
Score 34/100. $9.95 activation fee and $8.95 monthly fee. The Reach card had the second highest nonwaivable monthly fee and a high activation fee, but it earned a "very good" score for convenience.
|3. Redpack Mi Promesa Prepaid MasterCard|
Score: 33/100. $19.95 activation fee and $4 monthly fee. Despite scoring in the mid-range in the other three factors, Redpack Mi Promesa is among the worst in Consumer Reports' value category.
|4. American Express for Target|
Score: 17/100. $3 activation fee and no monthly fee. The American Express for Target prepaid card is the only prepaid card to receive Consumer Reports' "poor" rating for safety. It scored the worst for fee accessibility and clarity, and "lacks essential convenience, since it is not widely accepted and doesn't provide access to in-network ATMs," Consumer Reports said.