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September 2013

Checking and Debit Card Alternatives
Now Offered in Wisconsinon

 

Readers have been asking me about checking and debit card alternatives being offered by major retailers such as Wal-Mart. These cards are offered under names like “Bluebird” and can often be found at the retailers’ checkout counter. The cards provide surcharge-free access at select ATM machines, allow consumers to pay bills online, allow checks to be deposited with a smart phone, allow for online and mobile account management, provide fraud protection, and allow the primary card holder to set up sub-accounts for family members such as students away at college.

The Wal-Mart “Bluebird” card offered by American Express does not charge an activation cost to set up the card and also has no annual fee. Consumers may also add money to the cards by direct deposit or from a checking or savings account. However, there is a $2 fee when adding funds from another debit card or a $1 fee when adding funds at a WalMart register. There is no charge for customer-services calls, replacement cards, dormant fees, or for foreign exchange. Finally, there is no fee when withdrawing funds at a designated ATM machine that is part of the MoneyPass network. But there is a $2 charge when withdrawing funds from other ATM machines.

I searched no-fee ATMs on www.MoneyPass.com and I found a fair number of no-fee ATMs located within 20 miles of my home in New Glarus—but none in New Glarus. I was prepared to be skeptical about the Wal-Mart Bluebird card since retailer gift cards have a history of charging significant and poorly disclosed fees. However, the Wal-Mart Bluebird card charges relatively few fees. This makes the card a potentially useful financial tool for consumers who have had no prior credit history or are prevented from obtaining credit or debit cards due to a checkered credit history. For example, this card could be useful for a college student. 

Press reports indicate that similar checking account and debit card alternatives offered by other retailers may charge significantly higher fees, but comparison was difficult. For example, I tried to locate a similar card that was reported to be available at Target but could not find such a card at the checkout counter. Therefore, as always, it is important to read the terms or conditions before purchasing a card. Also, keep in mind that your local credit union may offer lower cost and a wider array of credit alternatives.              

Legislature Considers Bill Protecting Kids
and the Disabled from Identity Theft

Republican State Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (Fond du Lac) and State Senator Dale Schultz (Richland Center) are sponsoring (along with a bi-partisan group of 23 other legislators) legislation that would allow parents or court-ordered representatives to obtain credit “security freezes” on their children who are younger than 16, and the legislation would also allow court-ordered guardians or conservators to get the freezes for disabled persons. A “security freeze” prohibits the opening up of a credit card or other credit service for the person covered by the freeze. Unfortunately, this legislation seems necessary because identity thieves increasingly prey on children and disabled individuals by using their names to open up credit cards. A parent or guardian will be able to obtain a “security freeze” by paying a fee not to exceed $10 to credit reporting agencies such as Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. A credit freeze can be removed later if the parent or guardian so requests.


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