Home / Credit News / How did prepaid debit cards get so popular?

We knew that prepaid card use was on the rise over the last few years, but as it turns out their popularity has grown even more than we could have imagined over the last few years.

According to the Mercator Advisory Group, consumers are estimated to load $117 billion onto prepaid cards in 2013. That's up $35 billion from 2012's projections and $60 billion from 2011.

Somewhere, Russell Simmons and Justin Bieber are nodding happily.

So, why the soaring popularity in prepaid cards? As it turns out, there are several factors that have made prepaid cards such a booming consumer business.

First, prepaid cards have gotten a lot better over the last couple of years. Sure, some of these cards still carry considerable fees, but these fees are far more transparent than they once were. And given the competitive nature of the business of late, prepaid cards have also started to lower these fees - or eliminate them altogether.

For example, the American Express Prepaid Card has no monthly or annual fees, no purchase fees and no overdraft fees. The only fees attached to this card are for ATM withdrawals, and anyone with a checking account knows that these fees are standard - and probably more expensive - when you can't find your bank's ATM nearby. Sure, this card is by and large the exception to the prepaid debit card rule, but given its popularity this card could become the standard for prepaid in the coming years.

Along those same lines, there are some real benefits to carrying a prepaid card in your wallet. The aforementioned American Express Prepaid Card carries over AmEx member perks to prepaid card holders. That means you get purchase protection, fraud protection and roadside assistance from one of the best card issuers around simply for loading your cash on to their card. Ever heard of purchase protection from cash purchases? Yeah, we haven't, either.

Another reason prepaid debit card use is on the rise is advertising. If you have a TV (and we're betting you do), then odds are you've seen hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons spreading the word about his RushCard line of prepaid cards. AmEx Prepaid Cards have also seen a commercial push on the tube of late, and singer Justin Bieber made news last month when word got out that he would be the new spokesman of the SpendSmart Prepaid Debit Card. 

So, if the word wasn't out on prepaid cards before, it really is now.

And finally, one inarguable factor in the rise of prepaid debit card use is the value they offer when it comes to teaching teens and young adults responsible spending. Debit cards present no danger when it comes to falling into debt since they're prepaid; you only spend what you have. This makes prepaid cards a popular tool when it comes to "training" your kids on personal finances, and even some of our valued Discussion Forum members have provided feedback on how prepaid debits had an almost instantaneous effect on their kids' spending habits.

The bad publicity of big banks over the last four years has also steered some wary consumers away from the classic bank model, and the fact that many big banks have started charging monthly for checking accounts and debit card use has not helped their cause.

Essentially, the stars have aligned for a surge in prepaid debit card use, and the future of personal finance and improved options have made this market more viable than ever. And if you're still not a believer, consider that the same Advisory Group, Mercator, projects consumers to load $167 billion onto prepaid cards in 2014.

For now, it doesn't look like prepaid debit cards are going anywhere...