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Prepaid Student Credit Cards: The Right Choice For You?

By: Larry Goldberg

While parents used to tell kids on campus to get a credit card as soon as possible, the staggering debt statistics coming off of college campuses these days have parents lecturing their kids on not applying for any credit cards while in college. Unfortunately, our society has evolved to the point where you can’t live without a credit card anymore. Whether you’re ordering pizza online, paying for your books over the phone, or just trying to download some tunes to study by, a credit card is a must. One great solution to come out of the credit industry revolution in the last few years is the prepaid credit card.


What is A Prepaid Credit Card?

Prepaid credit cards work much like those merchant gift cards you got for Christmas last year. Your or someone who cares for you (like your parents) set up an account with a major credit card company or bank. They’ll be a fee to set up the account in most cases, and some companies even charge a fee to put money into the account itself. Once the paperwork is finished, though, fill the account with cash. The amount of money you put on the card determines your actual credit limit. Once the money is used, you’re  out of credit as well. There are no monthly bills to pay, and you can refill the card anytime you like. There is no interest fee on your purchases because you’re simply using the money you put there in the first place. The same ID theft protections are in place with prepaid cards as there are with regular ones, and you don’t have to have a good credit score, or a credit score at all, to get a prepaid card. Best of all, there are no lingering debt problems with prepaid student credit cards.


Sounds Great! Are There Drawbacks?

Any offer that sounds this good has drawbacks, but these are actually few and far between. Moreover, they vary from company to company. For example, some companies charge for you to set up the account, while others don’t. Some companies charge you a fee when you put money in the account, while others don’t. In addition to the fee schedule, though, there are two other big drawbacks. First, in most cases, prepaid credit cards won’t help you establish the credit history that standard student credit cards might. Most of them don’t report to credit bureaus at all. Second, not all merchants accept prepaid credit cards because by the time the merchant files his claim to take money out of the account, you may have already run it dry, leaving the merchant empty-handed. Finally, unlike other kinds of credit cards, you have to have the money to use it. If you’re in an emergency situation, and there’s no cash in the account, the prepaid student credit card simply won’t help you.


Prepaid student credit cards are a great idea, but they’re certainly not for all situations. Evaluate your options carefully before choosing a card that’s right for you.


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