Top Picks From Terry Savage: A Finance Expert Shares the Best Prepaid Debit Cards for Students

As college students head back to college this fall, they are far more aware of the costs of tuition, room and board, and books—plus interest on student loans.  But while those costs can be planned in advance, it’s the little things—the daily expenses—that can really add up and bust your budget.

That’s why it’s so important to create a financial structure for spending money, tracking balances, and justifying more money from your parents. Several online financial programs make it easier for both sides to see where the money went—and why you need more!

These two prepaid debit cards look and work like traditional credit cards. But they allow for online money tracking, and ease of “re-loading” more cash into your account.

Prepaid Debt Card #1: The Bluebird Card

Bluebird American Express Prepaid Debit CardWal-Mart and American Express (quite the odd couple!) have teamed up to create the Bluebird card—a prepaid credit card with no minimum account balance, no fees (either monthly or annual), a free debit card, and no credit inquiry required to open the account. You can either carry the plastic card in your wallet, or download a free app for your smartphone, letting you deposit a check by taking a photo, or pay bills online.

If you enroll in Direct Deposit—perhaps your monthly allowance paid automatically from your parent’s checking account—the Bluebird card can be used with no fee to withdraw cash at any MoneyPass network ATM, more than 22,000 locations. Withdrawals through another ATM network are charged a $2 fee—and local network fees may apply. And your parents can easily add more money to your account online.

All of your spending is tracked online and password protected at their website. And you can also request balance and transaction history to be texted to your cellphone—or to your parents to justify the need for more money to be deposited in your account.

Since this card is an American Express product, it can be used anywhere you would use an American Express card, with almost all of the same protections.

Prepaid Debt Card #2: The VisaBUXX Card

VisaBUXX Prepaid Debit CardSeveral Visa card issuers offer the VisaBUXX card—a prepaid debit card designed for students.  It looks and acts like a regular Visa card, and can be used anywhere a standard Visa card is used, for purchases and to withdraw cash.  The credit limit is the amount the parents have “deposited” into the card account. Parents can add cash anytime—online, over the phone, or with convenient automatic transfers from their checking account or credit card.

The kicker is that both student and parents can track spending online on a real time basis. So if you were tempted to call home and complain that text books were too expensive and you spent all your money, be aware that Mom and Dad will see all those charges at the campus restaurant or clothing store!

Only a few institutions offer this card, but since this is an online transaction, parents can wire money from your bank to set up the account.

Other Prepaid Debit Card Options

If you you don't think either of these cards is for you, you can create your own prepaid debit card. Just go to www.Bankrate.com to look for offerings of prepaid cards. Parents and students need to have access to the online site that tracks all spending, and make arrangements for any regular transfers from the parents’ checking account to the prepaid card.

Students value privacy—and don’t want parents to know where the money went. That’s okay if it’s money you earned. But if you’re depending on family to find all those extra college expenses, you’ll have to put up with some financial oversight. At least by using these online products you won’t have to humiliate yourself in person, or on the phone. That’s the Savage Truth!

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About the Author: Terry Savage

Terry Savage is a nationally recognized expert on personal finance, the economy and the markets. She writes a syndicated personal finance column, and blogs weekly on the Huffington Post. Terry is the author of four best-selling books on personal finance. The latest is a new edition of her best-seller, The Savage Truth on Money, which was named one of the top ten money books of the year by Amazon.com in its first edition. Her other recent book is: The Savage Number: How Much Money do You Really Need to Retire? You can read Terry’s columns, as well as post questions and comments at her website, TerrySavage.com.

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