College on a Dime: Do not get a prepaid debit card!


AOL Money & Finance writer and editor Zac Bissonnette is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and an expert on getting a great education without going broke. Got a college question? Leave a comment and he'll get back to you!

The Wall Street Journal recently took a look (subscription required) at the aggressive marketing of prepaid debit cards on college campuses.

What is a prepaid debit card? It's just like a regular debit card, except that it isn't hooked up to a checking account. You have to transfer money to it from a bank account, and there are hefty fees for activating the card, withdrawing money from ATMs and, get this, not using the card regularly. Fraud protection tends to be limited and, unlike a credit card, you can't establish a credit history to help qualify for better rates on student loans or a mortgage.

All of this raises an interesting question: why would anyone get a prepaid debit card? I can't even imagine.

The only advantage would seem to be that you can't rack up credit card debt or overdraft fees, but it's also possible to avoid those two things by not spending money you don't have. Either way, the insane fees far outweigh any benefit and the reason these are being pushed is that so many colleges have kicked credit card companies off campus.

Maybe it's time to give prepaid debit cards the boot too.