NEW YORK, April 6, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- All 31 prepaid debit cards Bankrate.com (NYSE: RATE) recently surveyed charge a fee of some kind, but the type of fees, amounts, and ability to avoid the fees can vary widely. Monthly service fees, activation fees and fees for calling customer service have declined over the past year. But fees involving the ATM, just as with bank accounts, are on the rise. The cost for withdrawals, balance inquiries and even declined transactions at the ATM are more likely to have increased than decreased in the past year.
"Many of the higher fee cards seen in the past have been marginalized or even discontinued, while the newer entrants often have more transparent fee structures and in many cases, avoidable fees," notes Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com. "If you do want to supplement your finances with a prepaid debit card, it's best to assess how you plan to use it before choosing a card so that you avoid getting hit with extra fees."
26% of the cards have no monthly fee, up from 17% last year, but still down from 38% (on a smaller sample size of 24 cards) two years ago.
The range of fees is $1 - $9.95, which is consistent with last year.
In addition to the eight cards with no monthly fee, eight more (26%) will waive the fee, usually based on having direct deposit, an amount automatically loaded on the card, or a linked checking account with that bank.
Altogether, 52% of the cards either have no monthly fee or will waive it (up from 50% last year).
Nearly half (48%) have an activation fee ranging from $1.88 to $9.95, depending on where the card is purchased.
But 13% percent (up from 10% last year) do not charge an activation fee if the card is purchased online.
ATM Withdrawal Fees
Unlike bank accounts, where limiting your ATM withdrawals to the bank's own ATMs is a surefire way to avoid fees, it is not so cut-and-dried with prepaid cards.
Twenty-nine percent of the cards are not associated with an ATM network. Of those with ATMs, 68% do not charge, while 32% charge a fee ranging from $1 - $2.50. These findings are consistent with last year.
All 31 cards assess a fee (ranging from $1 to $3) for going outside the ATM network.
ATM Balance Inquiry Fees
Checking the card balance at an ATM will typically cost you; 81% of the cards (up from 77% last year) charge a fee between $0.50 and $3 at some or all ATMs.
Thirteen percent (up from 10% last year) do not charge for balance inquiries at any ATMs, while six percent do not permit balance inquiries at the ATM.
These fees remain rare. On PIN-based transactions, 77% of the cards do not charge a fee. On signature-based transactions, 87% of cards do not charge a fee. Of the few cards that do charge this fee, the range is $0.50 - $2 for PIN transactions and $0.50 - $1 on signature transactions.
Monthly Statement Fees
Fifty-five percent charge for receiving account statements by mail, with fees ranging from $1 to $5.95.
Thirty-five percent don't charge to receive paper statements in the mail, while 10% don't even offer mailed statements.
Only 6% of cards offer paper statements at ATMs, and all charge either $1 or $2.50.
Customer Service Fees
Customer service fees are declining sharply. Just 16% of cards charge for customer service calls, down from 27% last year.
The fees range from $0.50 to $4.95 depending on the nature of the call.
Declined Transaction Fees
Seventy-one percent do not charge for declined transactions under any circumstances, while 6% charge $1 for any declined transaction.
Twenty-three percent of cards charge between $0.75 and $2 only for transactions declined at the ATM (up from 10% last year).
Eighty-four percent of the cards do not charge an inactivity fee, virtually unchanged from last year.
Among the 16% that do charge, the monthly inactivity fees range from $1.95 to $5.95.
Ninety-four percent of cards do not permit overdraft on purchases. The cost is similar to that of bounced checks and ranges from $15 - $34.
Bill Payment Fees
Only 6% of the cards charge a fee, ranging from $0.50 - $0.95.
None of the issuers that Bankrate surveyed charge reload fees.
Methodology: Bankrate.com surveyed 31 prepaid cards offered by prominent issuers from February 2-10, 2015.
About Bankrate, Inc. Bankrate is a leading publisher, aggregator, and distributor of personal finance content on the Internet. Bankrate provides consumers with proprietary, fully researched, comprehensive, independent and objective personal finance editorial content across multiple vertical categories including mortgages, deposits, insurance, credit cards, and other categories, such as retirement, automobile loans, and taxes. The Bankrate network includes Bankrate.com, CreditCards.com, InsuranceQuotes.com and Caring.com, our flagship websites, and other owned and operated personal finance websites, including Interest.com, Bankaholic.com, Mortgage-calc.com, CreditCardGuide.com, CarInsuranceQuotes.com, Insweb.com, CreditCards.ca, and NetQuote.com. Bankrate aggregates rate information from over 4,800 institutions on more than 300 financial products. With coverage of over 600 local markets, Bankrate generates rate tables in all 50 U.S. states. Bankrate develops and provides web services to over 100 co-branded websites with online partners, including some of the most trusted and frequently visited personal finance sites on the Internet such as Yahoo!, AOL, CNBC, and Bloomberg. In addition, Bankrate licenses editorial content to over 500 newspapers on a daily basis including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Boston Globe.