Jennifer Tramontana, a spokeswoman for the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association, notes that the costs associated with the cards have been coming down as more players enter the market.
You can dig into card disclosures to uncover fees, or check out NerdWallet.com, which compares more than 60 prepaid cards. That includes the new Chase Liquid prepaid card, described by NerdWallet as one of the cheapest cards.
The website allows you to plug in how you expect to use the plastic — such as number of monthly ATM withdrawals, bill payments and balance inquiries — and then lists the least expensive cards for you. NerdWallet also compares prepaid cards with checking accounts.
Consumer advocates have concerns about prepaid cards besides fees.
Prepaid cards, with some exceptions, don't have the regulatory protections of debit cards that limit the consumer's liability if a card is lost or stolen, Susswein says. While issuers say they will extend this protection to prepaid cards, they can always change their minds, she says.
And a prepaid card won't help you build a credit history because it's cash, not credit.
Customers who develop a good record with the American Express prepaid card, however, may be invited to apply for a charge card that must be paid off monthly. And a charge card can help you build a credit history.
If you still think a prepaid card will work for you, take the time to research different cards. Given the wide variety of fees, it will be well worth the time.