Posted July 15, 2013 by Chris Warren in Blog

Getting A Prepaid Card In Your Wallet

Decorative image of a woman working with a laptop
Decorative image of a woman working with a laptop

In his fascinating book, The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz goes to great length to point out that an abundance of options – whether it’s in choosing a doctor, ordering a coffee or selecting a college – can actually make us miserable. A gross oversimplification of Schwartz’s book is this: having too many choices can make us always question our eventual selection and blame ourselves for any sort of failure related to it.

Here at, our aim is to provide you with enough information so that the choice you make when it comes to a prepaid debit card doesn’t generate the sort of angst Schwartz writes so intriguingly about. And to be sure, the market for prepaid debit cards has grown so sprawling that an overabundance of choices already exists. To obtain a card, you have to compare annual fees, usage limits, reloading fees, and ATM withdrawal limits. Many merchants, including grocery stores, drug stores, big box retailers like Walmart and major banks like Chase and Wells Fargo now offer their own branded prepaid debit cards.

While we certainly do our best to make sure you don’t fall victim to the buyer’s remorse and self-doubt that Schwartz writes about, here’s a little good news: once you actually make a decision to get a particular card, actually obtaining it as a snap. Indeed, most online application forms for the major prepaid debit cards are simple and getting a card on-site at a retailer will require only a few minutes of your time.

Part of the reason the application process is so easy and painless is because of what you don’t need. Remember, prepaid debit cards are funded by you in advance; they’re not credit cards, where the issuer is allowing you to borrow potentially thousands of dollars, which they expect you to pay back. Because of that dynamic, prepaid debit card issuers don’t need to comb through your past to see how reliable you have been in paying off old debts. Your credit history just doesn’t matter because the money you’ll be using is cash you’ve already earned. The fact that applicants don’t need a pristine credit history makes prepaid debit cards a boon to parents who want them for their teenagers, college students, and workers without bank accounts. The only thing you will really need to get a card is a form of identification, like a driver’s license or a passport. If you are under age 18, you’ll need parental permission. Because of that very low bar, and unlike a credit card, you can get a debit card immediately if you buy it from a local merchant.

Ordering the card online means that it may take a few days to a week to arrive. That delay can be important, depending on what you need the card for. For instance, if you are planning to use it on a trip, be sure to build in enough time so that the card arrives before you take off. And also remember that you’re not just tying up the funds you put on the card. Most prepaid debit cards are not afforded the same consumer protection as credit cards under the Fair Credit Billing Act, so fees to maintain them can eat into the account funds, even when it’s not actually in your hands.

Still, these are fairly minor considerations, especially given the overwhelming task of actually choosing the right prepaid debit card in the first place. But at least obtaining the card is a welcome break from the paradox of choice.

Chris Warren