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Stay on top of your spending with a prepaid card

With a prepaid card you can't spend more than you have loaded on it, so they're a great way of managing your finances

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Last updated
December 15th, 2023

What is a prepaid card?

A prepaid card enables you to spend money that you've already loaded onto the card. Unlike debit cards, prepaid cards aren't directly linked to your bank account, making them an attractive option for various financial needs.

They are often referred to as 'prepaid debit cards' and even ‘prepaid credit cards,’ though no such cards exist as you can’t get access to credit with a prepaid card. They are often used for travelling, budgeting or for those who are unable to get a standard bank account.


Often referred to as 'prepaid credit cards,’ though no such cards exist as you can’t get access to credit with a prepaid card."

How do they work?

Prepaid cards work in a straightforward manner and are designed to provide a convenient and flexible way to manage your money. Here's how they work in the UK:

Purchase a prepaid card: You can obtain a prepaid card by purchasing one from a retail location, online from the card issuer's website, or through some banks and financial institutions. Some prepaid cards may also be offered as part of a promotional or rewards program.

Activate the card: This often involves registering the card online or by phone and providing your personal information, such as your name, address, and sometimes identification details.

"It's crucial to keep track of your prepaid card's balance to ensure you have enough funds for your purchases."

Load funds onto the card: This can be done through various methods, including direct deposit from your employer or government benefits, transferring money from your bank account, or using a designated reload network at retailer

Use the card for transactions: You can use it for various transactions, just like a debit or credit card. This includes making purchases in-store and online, withdrawing cash from ATMs.

Reload funds as needed: When your balance runs low, you can reload the card with more funds. You can reload the card as frequently as needed, depending on the card provider's policies. Just be aware of any reload fees associated with this process.

Who are prepaid cards best suited for?

Individuals with no or poor credit history

Prepaid cards are accessible to individuals who may not qualify for traditional credit cards due to a lack of credit history or a poor credit score. Since they do not require a credit check, they offer a spending option for people looking to establish or rebuild their credit.

Budget-conscious users

Prepaid cards are excellent for budgeting purposes. You can load a specific amount of money onto the card, helping you avoid overspending and stay within your financial limits.

Parents

Prepaid cards can be used to teach financial responsibility to teenagers and young adults. Parents can load a set allowance onto the card, allowing their children to manage their own expenses while still providing oversight.

Travelers

Prepaid cards with competitive currency conversion rates are a convenient and secure way to carry foreign currency while traveling. They can be used for transactions abroad without the need to carry large amounts of cash or incur high foreign exchange fees.

Employers and employees

Businesses often use prepaid cards to disburse employee salaries, bonuses, or expense reimbursements. These cards can be a cost-effective and convenient way to manage payroll.

Temporary or seasonal workers

Seasonal workers, freelancers, or gig economy workers who may not have a traditional bank account can receive payments on prepaid cards. This provides them with a convenient way to access their earnings.

Who are prepaid cards best suited for?

Individuals with no or poor credit history

Prepaid cards are accessible to individuals who may not qualify for traditional credit cards due to a lack of credit history or a poor credit score. Since they do not require a credit check, they offer a spending option for people looking to establish or rebuild their credit.

Budget-conscious users

Prepaid cards are excellent for budgeting purposes. You can load a specific amount of money onto the card, helping you avoid overspending and stay within your financial limits.

Parents

Prepaid cards can be used to teach financial responsibility to teenagers and young adults. Parents can load a set allowance onto the card, allowing their children to manage their own expenses while still providing oversight.

Travelers

Prepaid cards with competitive currency conversion rates are a convenient and secure way to carry foreign currency while traveling. They can be used for transactions abroad without the need to carry large amounts of cash or incur high foreign exchange fees.

Employers and employees

Businesses often use prepaid cards to disburse employee salaries, bonuses, or expense reimbursements. These cards can be a cost-effective and convenient way to manage payroll.

Temporary or seasonal workers

Seasonal workers, freelancers, or gig economy workers who may not have a traditional bank account can receive payments on prepaid cards. This provides them with a convenient way to access their earnings.

How to choose a prepaid card

Here are four steps to help you choose the right prepaid card for you:

Determine your needs

Start by identifying your specific needs and how you plan to use the prepaid card. Are you using it for everyday spending, travel, online shopping, or a specific purpose like budgeting for a particular expense? Knowing your needs will guide your selection.

Compare costs

Review the fee structure of different prepaid cards. Common fees to consider include activation or issuance fees, monthly maintenance fees, ATM withdrawal and reload fees. Choose a card with fee structures that align with your usage patterns.

Check for features and benefits

Look for additional features and benefits that may come with the prepaid card. Some cards may offer features such as mobile app access for easy account management or budgeting tools to help you track your spending.

Review cardholder protections

Understand the level of consumer protection offered by the prepaid card provider. While prepaid cards may not have the same protections as credit cards, some may offer other limited forms of fraud protection.

Our best prepaid card

Our editors have picked out our top prepaid card with the lowest annual fee.

Editor’s pick

One of the cheapest cards in the market with no admin or UK transaction fees. You can use is it in over 150 countries and spend at the interbank exchange rate. It also offers free ATM withdrawals up to £200.

Author image
Senior Personal Finance Editor
Card
Revolut Standard Prepaid Card
Administration fee
No fees
UK transactions
Free
UK ATM withdrawals
Free
Load charges
Debit card: free
Show Details
Eligibility
Permanent UK Resident
YES
Editor’s pick
Card
Revolut Standard Prepaid Card
Administration fee
No fees
UK transactions
Free
UK ATM withdrawals
Free
Load charges
Debit card: free
Show Details
Eligibility
Permanent UK Resident
YES

One of the cheapest cards in the market with no admin or UK transaction fees. You can use is it in over 150 countries and spend at the interbank exchange rate. It also offers free ATM withdrawals up to £200.

Author image
Senior Personal Finance Editor

The power of prepaid Mastercards and prepaid Visa cards


Prepaid Mastercards

Prepaid Mastercard cards are a popular choice among consumers for their widespread acceptance and additional benefits. These cards offer a gateway to convenience and security for various financial needs.

Advantages of prepaid Mastercard cards

  • Global acceptance: Mastercard is accepted at millions of locations worldwide.

  • Travel-friendly: Often offers competitive foreign exchange rates.

  • Secure transactions: Benefit from Mastercard's robust security features.


Prepaid Visa cards

Prepaid Visa cards are another widely accepted option, offering similar advantages to their Mastercard counterparts. Whether you're shopping online or travelling abroad, Visa cards provide convenience and reliability.

Advantages of prepaid Visa cards

  • Worldwide acceptance: Visa is recognised globally, making it a convenient choice for international travellers.

  • Online shopping: Visa cards are widely accepted for online purchases.

  • Consumer protection: Visa offers additional protections for cardholders.

Pros and cons

Pros

Easily manage your finances by loading a specific amount onto the card
Prepaid cards are accessible to everyone, regardless of their credit history
Reduce the risk of fraud as these cards aren't tied to your personal bank account
Widely accepted worldwide, often offering competitive currency conversion rates

Cons

Prepaid cards may not be accepted everywhere, especially in places that require a credit card for reservations or as a deposit, like hotels and car rental agencies
Many prepaid cards come with fees, including activation fees, monthly maintenance fees, ATM withdrawal fees, and reload fees
Prepaid cards do not help you build credit because they are not linked to a credit line
Prepaid cards may not offer the same level of consumer protections as credit or debit cards
Some prepaid cards may have restrictions on how much and where you can reload funds. This can be inconvenient if you need to add money to the card regularly.

FAQs

Can I go overdrawn on a prepaid card?

No, you can only spend the money that is on the card. You cannot borrow any money or fall into debt with a prepaid card.

Can I get more than one card?

Yes, some providers allow you to acquire additional cards to pass on to other people, such as friends or family. They will only be able to spend the money added to the specific card they’ve been given.

Are prepaid cards good for travel money?

Yes, they could be. Prepaid cards can be used around the world, but you may also wish to look out for travel prepaid cards that can be loaded with the currency of the country you’re travelling to, which usually reduces the cost of spending overseas. Before choosing a travel prepaid card, however, explore other options for spending money abroad.

How old do I have to be to get a prepaid card?

It depends on the card. Some require you to be 18, while others allow younger people – with parental permission – to get a card. Some providers are happy to issue cards to anyone over the age of six.

Is my prepaid card protected by Section 75?

No, because only credit cards are protected by Section 75. If something goes wrong with a transaction, you may be able to get help in reclaiming your money through the Chargeback scheme.

Explore our in-depth prepaid cards guides

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About the author

Salman Haqqi
Salman Haqqi spent over a decade as a journalist reporting in several countries around the world. Now as a personal finance expert, he helps people make informed financial decisions.

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