Heather Wright | February 16, 2017

Are prepaid cards a good idea?

The popularity of prepaid debit and credit cards is growing fast. On the surface, they seem like a good idea, right? You’re not using credit to purchase things so you’re not spending beyond your means. mastercard

While prepaid cards offer a good alternative to using credit, there are a number of things to consider.

“When it comes to trying to stick to a budget, living a cash-only lifestyle is best. However, there are circumstances where using a credit card (or a debit card) is more convenient or in some cases required. In this way, prepaid cards can be a great alternative to traditional credit,” says Jeff Schwartz, executive director, Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada.

“There are still a number of points to consider, like some of the fine print and if the use of these cards are in support of your longer term goals,” says Schwartz.

Budgeting tool

One definite plus is that using a prepaid card can really help you budget your money because the amount is finite. Much like using cash only, there is no risk of spending beyond your means. When it is gone, it’s gone. They help with budgeting too because they require planning- both in terms of use and tracking.


Doing online shopping and booking flights; hotels and cars can be tough without using a credit card. But what if you really want to avoid credit use? A prepaid card will help you get around that, so that is a convenient benefit.  However you will want to make sure that there is enough funds on the card for the purchase or that the retailer will allow their use.

Great to help family

Let’s say you have a child away at school who needs money or a senior parent who could potentially be vulnerable to scams. Supplying them with a prepaid card gives them the autonomy to spend without a lot of the potential danger of letting them have a traditional card.


The safety around prepaid cards is kind of a pro and a con. For instance, if you are travelling and are worried about your things getting stolen and/or identity theft, a prepaid card is a good option. However, you don’t have liability protection in the same way that you do for a traditional credit card. If your prepaid card gets stolen, it’s gone.

Not helpful for your credit history

While prepaid cards are great in the sense that they are available to people with no credit history or a poor credit history, they ultimately aren’t doing anything to help you change that; they don’t establish credit history. The only way that you can clean up your credit (or prove yourself in the first place) is to consistently use and make your payments each and every month.

If your goal is to establish credit, your goal may be better served by taking out a small balance card and making small purchases which you pay off in full every month. If you are a high-risk borrower, your lender may even agree to give you a credit card if you secure it with cash. That way you are establishing credit, but also have cash should you need to shut down the card and pay it off.

Be aware of the fees

Another drawback is that a number of cards have pretty substantial fees, like activation and per-use fees, which can really eat away at your balance. In the end, you need to make very sure that you’ve read all the fine print in detail before you purchase.

One way to clean up your credit is to pay down your debt and start fresh. We can help you formulate a plan. Call us at or visit our online debt analysis.

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AFCC (Accredited Financial Counsellor Canada) is a distinguished professional designation, indicating that a counsellor has successfully completed the program and has specialized knowledge, unique skills and expertise as a qualified Credit Counsellor.

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