Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cheatin' debit cards: It's not just the Kardashians

A Daily News columnist rightly called out the Kardashian sisters for their venture outside the realm of "reality" TV and into the lowest of low finance: ripping off fans via a designer prepaid debit card. Here's the sad news, though: The Kardashians aren't the only ones playing this game.

Cheatin' debit cards: It's not just the Kardashians

My Daily News colleague Jenice Armstrong rightly called out the Kardashian sisters, Kim, Kourtney and Khloe, for their venture outside the realm of "reality" TV and into the lowest of low finance: ripping off fans via a designer version of the prepaid debit card.  Here's the sad news, though: The Kardashians aren't the only ones playing this game.

Armstrong wrote yesterday:

There's plenty of other fine print associated with having a Kardashian Kard in your wallet. For instance, there's something called a six-month option that will set you back $59.95 or $99.95 for a year, just for the privilege of owning the silly thing. A one-time use card costs $9.95. On top of that, there's a monthly fee of $7.95 and additional fees each time your little darling withdraws funds at an ATM machine or when you transfer money from another debit card onto the Kardashian Kard.

"Can you hear me rolling my eyes over the phone? This is going a little too far," said Farnoosh Torabi, author of You're So Money: Live Rich Even When You're Not, a financial tell-all for young adults. "Now we are getting into territory that I have to say is irresponsible . . . It lures the consumer to a product under false pretenses."

The implied message is if you purchase this Kardashian Kard, you too can have what they have - a life marked by designer labels and other excessive consumerism. 

I don't know much about the Kardashians - a name that always reminds me of some villainous race of extraterrestrials on one of the Star Trek series that captured my attention in the days before twisted versions of reality became the nation's nighttime obsession.

But I can tell you that prepaid debit cards, designer labeled or not, are a cesspool of fine print and hidden fees. Somehow, when Congress and the Federal Reserve finally began to drain the credit-card, debit-card and gift-card swamp, they left these dangerous little creatures to run wild. And that's what they've done.

These are big business, generating billions of dollars in transactions for little-known companies such as Green Dot and UniRush Financial Services and big players like Walmart and H&R Block, according to a report last year by Consumers Union.

CU says initiation or activation fees on the cards it examined ranged up to $39.95, with the median about $10. Monthly fees ranged up to about $10.  "Some prepaid cards, like the BankFreedom prepaid card, require a minimum direct deposit amount per month to waive the fees," said the report, available here. Others, such as the Eufora MasterCard Prepaid Card,  have annual fees ranging from $29.95 to $99.95.

That's not all. These cards sometimes add point-of-sale transaction fees, cash withdrawal fees, balance inquiry fees, transaction-statement fees, customer-service fees - even bill-payment fees.

It can even cost money to get out of Dodge, which you'll want to do once you realize you're surrounded by scoundrels and thieves and the sheriff hasn't arrived yet. (Are you listening, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?)  Says CU: "The Western Union, BuyRight and AccountNow prepaid cards impose a fee of $10 to $15 to redeem any remaining money in the account by check. The card agreements call this fee a 'check issuance fee' or 'cancellation fee.'"

You can read Armstrong's column here, if you want to know more about Kim, Kourtney and Khloe - and thanks to the commenters who corrected my initial misspelling of two of their names. 

But the bottom line is: Sometimes, reality bites - and not just the TV kind.

 

 

 

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
About this blog

Jeff Gelles, who writes the Inquirer's weekly Consumer 14.0 and Tech Life columns, takes a broad look at the marketplace of goods, services, and ideas.

Reach Jeff at jgelles@phillynews.com.

Jeff Gelles Inquirer Business Columnist
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