Ed's Blog

CFPB holds field hearing on prepaid cards-- all the fees, none of the protections

By Ed Mierzwinski
Senior Director, Federal Consumer Program

Several members of the PIRG-backed Americans for Financial Reform are among the witnesses at a field hearing on prepaid cards that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau holds at noon today in Durham, NC. The AFR witnesses include Martin Eakes of the Center for Responsible Lending (NC), Adam Rust of Reinvestment Partners (NC) and Deyanira Del RIo of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (NYC). 

The event will be streamed on the CFPB home page or this page. While reloadable prepaid cards are growing fast as an option for convenience, for the unbanked and for distribution of government and student benefits, so-called general purpose reloadable prepaid cards sold under a variety of brands have fewer consumer protections than credit cards (gold standard), debit cards (fewer protections), and payroll, government benefit  and gift cards (some protections). The CFPB will announce an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the situation. The ANPR comments on the dramatic growth in card use.

This ANPR is seeking information about a specific type of prepaid card known as a general purpose reloadable (GPR) card (GPR card). According to projections by the Mercator Advisory Group, the total dollar value of amounts loaded onto GPR cards is expected to reach $167 billion in 2014, far in excess of the amount for 2007 of $12 billion.

While the ANPR also explains many of the legal distinctions between the various cards and your rights, here is a consumer-friendly one page comparison of your credit, debit and prepaid card protections and rights from the FDIC.

U.S. PIRG remains concerned (from the Eugene Oregon Register-Guard) about the growing use of a variety of cards to provide student benefits, including the disbursement of student loans. That is not a subject of today's inquiry. It is a subject of both CFPB and U.S. Department of Education review. More to follow. Watch this space.

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