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Are prepaid cards a bad deal?

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON — It sounds like a good idea to get your pay check or your tax refund on a prepaid debit card. It’s less of a hassle than visiting the bank or finding a routing number for direct deposit. But before you go for the prepaid card, check out the fine print.

The trend has been growing because of those pesky new fees many banks now impose on checking accounts. This is especially true for those who have trouble keeping a minimum amount in their checking account and incur a penalty.

The cards are also becoming more popular as a substitute for paper checks because they are cheaper to process.

Even some states and the federal government have started using the the cards to send out benefits.

“As fees escalate in the banking community, more consumers are looking for things like prepaid cards, perhaps not realizing that they may encounter many of the same fees in that area,” Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com, says.

McBride suggests seeking professional help to understand the fine print — asking questions before filing can lower the risk of paying unwanted fees.

“You want to minimize the amount of fees you pay on the card so you keep as much of your money that’s on that card as possible.” he says.

McBride says direct deposit is still a better and less expensive option if you have a bank account.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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