Prepaid cards work a little differently to other types of plastic. Although you can use them to make purchases or withdraw cash in the same way as a debit or credit card, the key difference is that they need to be loaded up with cash in advance – and you can then only spend the balance on the card.
There are a number of benefits to using a prepaid card, so it pays to compare your options carefully and select the right one for your needs.
Advantages of prepaid cards
Prepaid cards usually fall into two categories – pay monthly and pay-as-you-go. Pay monthly prepaid cards charge a monthly fee, but in return you pay lower transaction fees than you would with a pay-as-you-go card, and often, you will also be given rewards or cashback on your spending.
Pay monthly prepaid cards are more suited to those who regularly spend on their card, while pay-as-you-go options are more suited to those who only make a handful of transactions on their card each month.
Because you can only spend the money you've pre-loaded onto your prepaid card, they are a great choice for those on a budget, for parents who want to keep an eye on their children's spending, or even for businesses.
But another benefit of prepaid cards is that they don't require a credit check and, as a result, they are easier to get hold of than credit or debit cards. This means they can be a good option for those with a poor credit score or no credit history at all. Some prepaid cards will also allow you to add a 'credit builder' service to your card which will help you to improve your credit rating.
What's more, certain prepaid cards can even be used as an alternative to a bank account, allowing your salary to be paid onto them.
Prepaid cards can also be a handy addition to your wallet if you're holidaying abroad. This is because a number of cards allow you to pre-load them with foreign currency and then side-step the expensive fees charged by many debit and credit cards for use overseas.
Disadvantages of prepaid cards
Prepaid cards can be riddled with fees, so it's important to read the small print carefully.
In particular, you should watch out for monthly fees, charges for loading funds onto your card, fees for withdrawing cash or spending on your plastic, and inactivity fees – which kick in if you don't use your card for a number of months.
Finally, unlike credit cards, prepaid cards are not covered under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This protects credit card purchases between £100 and £30,000 against a retailer going bust, or your goods arriving faulty or damaged. This protection was extended up to £60,260 under the 2011 Consumer Credit Directive.