If you have a low credit score and/or are currently unemployed, you might struggle to qualify for a checking account at your local bank. You might also find that you cannot qualify for any of those credit card offers that keep filling your mailbox.
You do have an option, though, if you do not want to carry large amounts of cash with you at all times: prepaid debit and credit cards.
These cards, which you load with funds, allow you to make purchases, both online and offline. You can also use them to withdraw money from ATMs.
However, you need to be careful. Be aware that some prepaid cards come with potentially pricey fees.
The Benefits of Prepaid Cards
Prepaid cards do not appeal to everyone. However, if you have limited or weak credit history and you have struggled to hold down a full-time job, such cards might work for you. That is because you will not have to submit to a credit check or a review of your employment history to acquire one.
There's a reason for this: You are directly providing the funds for your prepaid card with your money. Say you deposited $1,000 on a prepaid card. You now have a balance limit of $1,000. You cannot spend more than that, though you can increase your prepaid card's balance whenever you'd like.
Another advantage? These cards are easy to get, and you can qualify for them quickly. In fact, you can usually purchase prepaid cards in minutes online. Once you load the cards with money, you are free to start using them.
Most merchants are not shy about accepting prepaid cards. You'll find that the majority of stores, restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets will accept your prepaid card. You can also use your prepaid cards at ATMs to withdraw quick cash when you need paper money.
Finally, if you have a history of running up big credit-card bills or emptying your checking accounts, prepaid cards offer protection. Because your purchasing power is limited to the amount of money on your card, you cannot overspend.
Beware of Fees
This does not mean that prepaid cards are perfect. Many do come with a big drawback: high fees.
Some providers of prepaid cards, for instance, will charge you a fee -- often as high as $4 -- when you use your prepaid card at certain ATMs. Others might charge you a small fee for every transaction you make with your prepaid debit or credit card. These can add up.
Other providers of these cards will charge you if you try to withdraw more money than what you currently have in your account. If you do not keep careful track of your spending, you will run the risk of incurring this often costly fee.
If you are aware of the fees, though, and you take the steps necessary to avoid them, you might find that prepaid cards are the right option for you. If you use these cards wisely, you might even boost your financial health enough to qualify for traditional credit cards again.