Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

PNC Launches Prepaid Cards Reloadable Debit Cards Are Part of an Expanding Market

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

PNC Launches Prepaid Cards Reloadable Debit Cards Are Part of an Expanding Market

Article excerpt

Following the lead of a number of big banks, PNC Financial Services Group has launched its version of a prepaid debit card called SmartAccess, the latest entrant in a crowded field as the Pittsburgh-based bank tries to tap a booming market and recoup some revenue lost after federal regulators capped fees on traditional debit cards tied to bank accounts.

Reloadable debit cards appeal mainly to people who don't have bank accounts. Some people also use them as a substitute for cash while traveling, as a budgeting tool to help limit how much they spend, or as a way for children to buy things while away at camp or school.

As prepaid cards have zoomed in popularity, they've been criticized by consumer groups for blindsiding users with a host of hidden fees. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been studying whether the largely unregulated industry needs more controls.

PNC's SmartAccess Visa debit card, which debuted in mid-July, can be used anywhere traditional debit cards are accepted.

Overall, the card has relatively few fees, generally positioning it well against some of its more fee-laden competitors. But the card does have some drawbacks, especially for people who want to use it as an alternative to a checking account or high-priced check- cashing stores.

The major fee is a $5 monthly maintenance charge.

There are no activation fees for the cards, which are available at PNC branches, where they can be reloaded for free. Cardholders also can reload the cards through direct deposit at no charge, or through Visa ReadyLink sites at stores such as 7-Eleven or Walmart, which typically charge a service fee.

For cardholders with bank accounts, the SmartAccess cards also can be reloaded for free electronically through a bank transfer from a PNC checking account or an account at another bank, allowing parents to conveniently reload cards for their children.

Cardholders can get balance information and withdrawal cash from the cards for free at PNC ATMs. At non-PNC machines, balance inquiries and withdrawals are $2.50, plus an access charge levied by the owner of the ATM.

There's no fee for signature or PIN-based transactions or to get cash back at the register. …

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