However, as this article points out, there are many hidden fees that most people who buy them aren't aware of. This is just another example of preying on the lower class of society, especially those who are poor or who do not have a bank account.
Pay attention folks, and don't let yourself get taken advantage of.
via Daily Finance:
Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) have their own version of micro-lending -- though one that is unlikely to receive any awards. Instead, they lend out small amounts on their co-branded, pre-paid debit cards, which are sold largely to the working poor in the U.S., and then collect millions in fees and penalty charges.
What is a pre-paid debit card? The New York Times reports Tuesday that people buy them at drugstores and mass merchandisers in denominations of $25, $100 and $500. Consumers pay for the cards in stores to give them access to cash for ATM withdrawals, store purchases and ecommerce. In that way, the cards help enable commerce for a wider group of consumers.
There's just one little thing: fees. Or more specifically, lots of little fees -- for example, some cards have a $9.95 activation fee; $1.75 for each ATM withdrawal; $1 per ATM balance inquiry, 50 cents per purchase, $4 for monthly maintenance, $2 for inactivity after 60 days and $1 to call customer service. Somehow I doubt Grameen Bank charges fees like that.
This sector of the banking industry is growing fast. The Times reports that in 2008, prepaid debit purchases totaled $8.7 billion -- 125 percent more than in 2007. And by 2012, consumers are expected to purchase about $119 billion worth.
These pre-paid cards are co-branded with obscure companies that issue the cards, with names like Green Dot, NetSpend and AccountNow. But Visa and MasterCard -- who have their names on the cards as well are getting their share of the action -- receive between five and 20 cents each time a consumer or register operator swipes them. Who knows the regulatory and/or marketing reasons why these big name companies don't issue the cards all by themselves.