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What Is a Prepaid Debit Card & Should You Have One?

Reviewed by Candace Bowers
Managing Editor
Written by Fiza Usman
Updated: June 26, 2024
10 min read
Deadline19 days left to apply
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of Pathward®.

A prepaid debit card, an increasingly popular form of payment, is a tool that allows consumers to spend money they've loaded onto the card in advance. As technology advances, various payment options have emerged, making transactions more convenient. Innovations such as Apple Pay and Venmo have simplified spending, and prepaid debit cards are joining these modern payment solutions.

If you're looking to understand the basics, features, advantages, and potential drawbacks of prepaid debit cards, as well as how to choose and use them effectively, you're in the right place. This article will provide insights into prepaid debit cards, helping you make informed decisions.

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Definition and Functionality of Prepaid Debit Cards

Prior to focusing too much on the specifics, let's first begin with the simple definition of a prepaid debit card. While traditional debit cards are linked to a bank account, prepaid debit cards are not. Instead, they work on a pay-as-you-go basis. It is almost like a gift card that you can ultimately use for various transactions, just like a regular debit card.

In order for it to work, however, you must load funds onto the prepaid debit card. Don't worry. It is a lot simpler than it sounds. Upon purchasing any debit card, you have the option to add money to it. This can be completed either by transferring funds directly from your bank account or by purchasing a prepaid card with a specific amount already loaded onto it. Once the funds are loaded, you can use the card to make purchases, pay bills, or withdraw cash from ATMs.

Prepaid debit cards mimic the function of a gift card or a secured credit card in the way that there is limited autonomy over your spending. In order to eliminate overspending or accruing debt, you can't exceed the amount that you have loaded onto the card. This simple design makes it a great option for individuals who want to ensure that they stay within a budget or those who may not qualify for a traditional bank account due to credit history issues.

prepaid debit cards

Furthermore, prepaid debit cards offer a unique level of security and peace of mind. As there is no additional bank account to access, you don't have to worry about potential fraudsters gaining access to your personal information or draining your entire bank balance. In the event that your prepaid debit card is lost or stolen, you can simply contact the card issuer and have it deactivated, preventing any unauthorized transactions.

In addition to this, prepaid debit cards can be used almost anywhere, both on the web and in person. Regardless of whether you're shopping at your favorite retail store, dining out at a restaurant, or making online purchases, you can use your prepaid debit card as any other card. This level of versatility increases the practicality of this highly sought-after payment option.

Furthermore, depending on your prepaid debit card, there could be additional perks and benefits. These can include cashback rewards, discounts at select merchants, or even access to exclusive events. In fact, by relying on a prepaid debit card, you can take advantage of these added bonuses and make your everyday purchases even more rewarding.

How to Choose the Right Prepaid Debit Card

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Prepaid Debit Card

Prior to selecting a prepaid debit card, all of the factors questioned above should be taken into consideration. The biggest concepts would definitely be the card's fees and charges, the network it is accepted on, any additional benefits or rewards offered, and the ease of use, such as the availability of mobile apps or online account management tools. By assessing all your available options between these cards, you can adequately ensure that you select a prepaid debit card that aligns with your financial goals and maximizes your convenience.

Prepaid Debit Cards and Other Cards

Prepaid Debit Cards and Traditional Debit Cards

As you may already know, all debit card purchases are immediately deducted from your account balance in real time. In contrast, prepaid debit cards are not actually affiliated with any bank account. Since there is no checking account linked with it, you can't spend money without loading funds onto the card.

A debit card is for individuals who want to separate their spending money from their main bank account or for those who want to avoid having a bank account as a whole.

If anything, this separation provides a level of security, making it safer to use for risky transactions. Unlike a debit card, prepaid debit cards are not linked to your bank account, so even if your card information is compromised, your main checking accounts remain safe. This can hopefully provide you with a sense of relief.

With the way prepaid debit cards work, they can also be a useful tool for teaching financial responsibility. By controlling how much money is in the card, parents can give their children a sense of independence and control over their own finances while still ensuring that they are not overspending or getting into debt.

Credit Cards

Credit cards typically operate by borrowing money from the card issuer to make purchases, with an underlying expectation to repay all the funds within the borrowed amount later. Prepaid debit cards only use the money that was loaded into the card, with no obligation to keep up with repayment options. This means you can only spend what you have available, eliminating the risk of accumulating debt or overdraft fees, which is common with credit cards.

Credit cards are widely accepted. Most merchants and online retailers accept prepaid debit cards as an acceptable form of payment, making it easy to deal with everyday purchases.

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Prepaid Debit Cards

Budgeting and Financial Control

With any prepaid Visa card, you can work on budgeting and exercising better financial control. Since you are confined to the amount of money you loaded into the card, you can limit your spending to that predetermined amount.

This can be especially helpful if you are constantly overspending and find it difficult to stick to a budget. The transparency offered by tracking your transactions also allows you to identify any unnecessary expenses and make adjustments where needed.

When it comes to budgeting, prepaid debit cards have relatively low stakes. Secured credit cards allow you to spend beyond your means and accumulate debt. However, prepaid debit cards give you no other choice but to stay within your financial limits.

Furthermore, by regularly monitoring your transactions, you can identify any recurring expenses that may be draining your finances and adjust accordingly. This level of financial control can lead to increased savings and a more secure financial future.

Accessibility and Convenience

Every prepaid card issuer has several easy methods to load funds onto the card, such as through direct deposit or cash deposits at retail locations, making it hassle-free. This accessibility makes prepaid debit cards a practical choice for those who value convenience and flexibility.

The convenience of prepaid debit cards extends beyond the borders of America, as many cards are widely accepted internationally, making them a great option for those who travel or frequently need to make purchases abroad. It might even be a little cheaper to use a prepaid card overseas as there might not be any foreign transaction fees to account for.

All of this is simply the beginning, as there are several other factors that influence the overall desirability of any visa prepaid card. Typically, there are mobile apps that allow you to manage your card and track your transactions on-the-go.

These apps provide real-time updates on your account balance and transaction history and even offer budgeting tools to help you stay on top of your finances. Together, these bonus aspects can make a world difference in managing your money.

apple pay with debit card

Fees and Charges Associated with Prepaid Debit Cards

While there are definitely many great things about prepaid cards, it is still important to be aware of the potential fees and charges associated with them. Some common fees include activation fees, monthly maintenance fees, ATM withdrawal fees, and reload fees. These fees will vary depending on the specific card and provider, so it is critical to thoroughly review the signed agreement before deciding on a prepaid debit card.

Monthly fees are a recurring charge that is deducted from your card balance every month. They are meant to cover the costs of managing and maintaining your prepaid debit card account. In addition to activation and monthly maintenance fees, many prepaid debit cards charge fees for ATM withdrawals.

Depending on the card, it can either be a fixed amount per withdrawal or a percentage of the transaction amount. It's important to note that these fees can quickly add up, especially if you frequently use ATMs to access cash.

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Other Features of Prepaid Debit Cards

Prepaid debit cards may come with certain features and benefits for individuals. Specifically, there is a chance that your prepaid debit card does not offer benefits such as cashback rewards or travel insurance.

Some prepaid debit cards may have restrictions on international usage. If you frequently travel abroad or make purchases from international merchants, it's important to check if the prepaid debit card you are considering allows such transactions. Some cards may charge additional fees for international usage, while others may not support it at all.

How to Use a Prepaid Debit Card

Loading Money onto a Prepaid Debit Card

Prepaid cards are pretty simple and straightforward once you've loaded money into the card. There are generally a couple of methods you can employ, such as direct deposit from your employer, transferring funds from your bank account, or making cash deposits at designated retail locations.

Others may also offer the option to do it via mobile apps or online transfers. Figure out which method would be the easiest for you to find one that aligns.

Making Purchases and Withdrawals with a Prepaid Debit Card

Upon loading funds onto your prepaid debit card, you can immediately start using it for purchases and withdrawals. Similar to using a traditional debit or credit card, you can use your prepaid debit card at any merchant that accepts cards of the same network (Visa, Mastercard, etc.). For online purchases, simply enter the card details as you would with any other payment method. Some prepaid debit cards may also offer the option to withdraw cash from ATMs, although withdrawal fees may apply.

bold debit card contactless payment

A Great Alternative to a Prepaid Debit Card: The Bold Visa® Debit Card

If you haven’t settled on taking out a debit card of your own, I encourage you to consider the Bold Debit Card. The Bold Debit Card is not a prepaid debit card. It is a demand deposit account and functions similar to a typical debit card, except this debit card offers great perks for students.

As a student myself, I understand how difficult it is to pay off student loans or even afford basic college necessities—here is how I believe this specific debit card can help!

I bring great news: this debit card is tailored to a student’s lifestyle. What I mean by this is that the rewards help pay for your school by allowing you to earn Bold Points on every purchase you spend, which can be redeemed for student loan payments or cashback.*

For every 1,000 bold points, you have the option to convert them to either a $10 cash back or a $15 student loan payment.* On top of that, there are no annual or hidden fees that will spite you in the end. You can be empowered knowing that you will be rewarded for spending money.

For more information, check out the Bold Debit Card now.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Prepaid Debit Cards

Do prepaid debit cards build credit?

No, prepaid debit cards do not impact credit scores, as they are not a form of credit. They are simply tools for managing and spending the funds loaded onto the card.

Should students get a prepaid debit card?

Students can benefit from having a prepaid debit card, especially before completing high school. It serves as an excellent introduction to financial management, teaching crucial skills such as budgeting and responsible spending.

Do prepaid debit cards expire?

Yes, prepaid debit cards can expire. The expiration date is typically printed on the front or back of the card. It is important to check this and be aware of this date so you can plan its use accordingly. When a prepaid debit card expires, it means that the card is no longer valid and cannot be used for transactions. Although the card expires, the funds on it do not. The cardholder will just need to request a new card.

Interested in learning more? Check out our Scholarship Blog to read about everything you need to know regarding student finances, scholarships, and higher education.

The features associated with the Bold Debit Card discussed in this blog post are provided by and are not affiliated with our Bank partners/Pathward®. Visa® Debit Card is a demand deposit account provided by Pathward®, N.A., Member FDIC. Visa Debit Card is issued by Pathward, N.A., Member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. Card can be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Visa is a registered trademark of Visa U.S.A. Inc. All other trademarks and service marks belong to their respective owners. Register your Card for FDIC insurance eligibility and other protections.

*This product or service is independent of Pathward® and Visa and is neither endorsed nor sponsored by Pathward® or Visa.

†The features associated with the Bold Debit Card discussed in this blog post are provided by and are not affiliated with our Bank partners, Pathward®, or Visa.

Fiza Usman
Content Writer

About Fiza

Fiza is a dedicated writer and researcher with expertise in internships, scholarships, career opportunities, and financial aid. Her skills enable her to craft engaging and insightful content that guides students through the complex processes of applying for financial aid and pursuing career opportunities.

She graduated from Boston College, majoring in Applied Psychology and Human Development and Computer Science.


Fiza has experience in writing blog posts, SEO content, and creative storytelling. On her personal blog, she shares engaging narratives through personal anecdotes. Her international experiences have given her a global perspective, enabling her to connect with a diverse audience. Fiza is committed to making a meaningful impact through her writing, always considering the perspectives and experiences of others.

Since joining the team in 2022, Fiza has channeled her passion for guiding students through pivotal stages of their academic journeys. She understands the challenges associated with college life and is dedicated to helping students adjust to their degree programs and manage their finances. Motivated by her own experiences, Fiza is passionate about empowering students by providing guidance and support that she wished she had during her undergraduate years.

Quote from Fiza

“To educate is to empower.”

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