My 30-day challenge left me with some clear lessons that can be broadly applied by anyone using a reloadable prepaid debit card to budget for day-to-day expenses – particularly if the card is part of the Visa Clear Prepaid program.
1. Clearly Communicated Fees Make Budgeting Easier
One of the first things I noticed when I signed up for my Green Dot® Reloadable Prepaid Visa® Card was the clear, straightforward fee schedule. All possible fees are laid out on a single webpage, making them easy to process at a glance.
Green Dot’s transparent fee disclosure helped me save money right off the bat – after scanning the fee schedule for a moment, I decided to purchase my card online for free and thereby avoid the in-store purchase fee of $2.95 to $4.95. I was also able to avoid the $5.95 monthly maintenance fee by loading more than $1,000 onto the card during the course of the month, a feat that would have been even easier had I set up direct deposit.
Even if my monthly expenses hadn’t exceeded $1,000, I still could have avoided the monthly fee by completing more than 30 transactions during the period. And Green Dot’s transparent disclosure of reloading fees allowed me to budget for the $5.90 cost of my two expedited transfers.
All told, my Green Dot card’s clear fee schedule helped eliminate surprise charges and made it easy to determine exactly how much I’d pay in fees during the course of my challenge (and, going forward, in a typical month). That allowed me to reduce the amount of wiggle room in my budget, freeing up more of my earnings for both spending and saving.
2. Visa Clear Prepaid’s Standards Provide Peace of Mind
Green Dot certifies the Green Dot® Reloadable Prepaid Visa® Card meets the Visa Clear Prepaid standards. The standards are designed to make the cardholder’s experience smoother and less confusing. In addition to a clear, transparent fee disclosure, a key Visa Clear Prepaid program requirement, these standards include:
- Either a flat monthly fee (as on the Green Dot card) or fees charged only when you use the card for purchase transactions, up to a clearly disclosed amount (as on some other prepaid cards)
- No fees for declined transactions
- No fees for cash back at the register
- No fees for utilizing customer service
- No in-network ATM withdrawal or balance check fees
- No card closure fees
- Deposit or share insurance, such as FDIC insurance, up to the maximum card balance of $10,000
- Visa Zero Liability* fraud protection
- No overdrafts allowed, and thus no overdraft fees
*Visa’s Zero Liability Policy covers U.S.-issued cards and does not apply to certain commercial card transactions, or any transactions not processed by Visa. You must notify your financial institution immediately of any unauthorized use. For specific restrictions, limitations, and other details, please consult your issuer.
Overall, the Visa Clear Prepaid program’s standards instilled confidence that I blindsided by fees that I wasn’t expecting, or held liable for losses due to theft or fraud.
3. Flexibility and Convenience Are Big Pluses
Aside from a few hiccups (such as the inability to use credit at the pump, and the need to select the credit option for register transactions), my Green Dot card was a super-flexible, super-convenient spending aid. Though I didn’t keep a running tally of how much time I saved using my card relative to my previous credit-debit card duo, the time savings were definitely substantial.
For instance, I rarely use ATMs because I moved recently and my main bank doesn’t have any branches or fee-free ATMs in my new hometown. Instead, my wife and I maintain a joint account at a local credit union and use that for shared, day-to-day expenses. If I need cash, I typically wait until I have paper checks to deposit (or some other reason for visiting the bank), travel to the credit union’s nearest branch, and withdraw cash directly from the teller. That’s an inconvenient, time-consuming process.
With my Green Dot card, I can simply transfer funds electronically from whichever account I please, then visit a fee-free Money Pass ATM near my house and withdraw cash – a much faster proposition.
4. Account Management Is Similar to a Bank Account or Credit Card
I’ve used several different bank and credit card account management systems in my life. Some have been really user-friendly, others less so. Green Dot’s falls squarely into the user-friendly category.
Perhaps more importantly, it shares key characteristics with the account management systems I’ve used in the past. Like many online bank account management systems, it clearly displays the account’s current balance in a prominent location (in this case, the screen’s upper right corner). It also shows a recent transactions snapshot that can be expanded to encompass longer time-frames – similar to many bank and credit card systems.
Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bill pay system Green Dot uses is one I’ve used before – all but eliminating the learning curve on bill payments with my card. Some new Green Dot cardholders won’t enjoy the same bill pay serendipity as I, but pretty much everyone who has used an online bank or credit card account management system before is likely to find a few familiar features.
5. Shared Expense Budgeting Is Possible
Though my wife didn’t sign up for her own Green Dot card prior to my 30-day challenge, we were able to use my card to handle our household’s shared expenses. We did this in a somewhat cumbersome fashion, with my Green Dot card handling our full bill payments for the month and my wife writing me a check for her half. If she’d had a Green Dot card, it would have been even easier: I would have put each payment on my card, and then accepted a free transfer from her card for half the amount, or vice versa. For groceries and other expense categories that require point-of-sale (register) transactions, we could have followed a similar procedure.
6. The Unexpected Can Happen
Unfortunately, during my 30-day challenge, I forgot to budget for an important expense, then encountered an unexpected obligation that wasn’t part of my normal monthly budget. Had I been using a traditional debit card, it’s possible that either situation – or both – would have caused an overdraft, with the attendant overdraft fee (up to $35 at my bank).
Even if I’d caught the problem before attempting a transaction for which I lacked the funds, getting the funds into my bank account in time would have been a hassle. Many banks, including mine, take up to three days to process a transfer from an external account. To get the funds in on the same day, I would have had to travel to my nearest bank branch or ATM and deposit a check.
By contrast, Green Dot’s expedited bank transfer function, which cost a reasonable $2.95 per transfer, got me the funds I needed almost immediately. Since there was barely any gap between the moment I initiated the transfer and the moment the funds loaded onto my card, there was no overdraft risk (which in the case of the Green Dot card, would have just meant a declined transaction at no cost to me) – as there would have been had I attempted to make a transaction using a traditional debit card tied to a bank account with insufficient funds and a three-day transfer period. Who would have thought a reloadable prepaid debit card would be better in a jam than a full-fledged bank account?
Prior to beginning research for this post and launching my 30-day challenge, I didn’t know much about reloadable prepaid debit cards. When I did give them any thought, I usually conflated them with gift cards.
But this experience was a great eye-opener. Even though I don’t have the world’s simplest finances, my Green Dot® Reloadable Prepaid Visa® Card proved more than capable of managing my day-to-day expenses and navigating the unexpected developments that come with the territory of household budgeting.
While I still maintain a traditional savings account for my emergency fund and long-term goals, as well as a Roth IRA for my retirement savings, the Green Dot card is a worthy alternative to my credit and debit cards. Maybe the Green Dot card – or another card within the Visa Clear Prepaid program – could be for you too.
What are your thoughts on using a reloadable prepaid debit card for your day-to-day spending needs?