Consumer Reports: Best prepaid cards

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Prepaid, reloadable cards make it easy to pay. You can get them in stores, banks, or online, and load them up. Consumer Reports has some suggestions on which are best to buy. (WPVI)

Prepaid, reloadable cards make it easy to pay. You can get them in stores, banks, or online, and load them up. But before you use one, Consumer Reports has some suggestions.

Since prepaid cards are becoming more popular, Consumer Reports has analyzed 20 for value, convenience, and security.

Catherine French, her mother, and son all use prepaid cards. For James, it takes the place of a bank account.

"I've used it almost anywhere, from restaurants to convenience stores, gas stations - anywhere," said James French.

Catherine says the prepaid card makes it easy to give James only what he needs for school and to avoid the perils of a credit card.

"I know I'm not going to let him loose with my credit card with his name on it," said Catherine French.

Consumer Reports evaluated the terms of 20 prepaid cards and says they are better than they used to be.

"One of the big improvements is safety. All of the prepaid card issuers we checked now voluntarily offer some of the same protections as bank-issued credit and debit cards," said Consumer Reports' Margot Gilman.

However, you must register your card to get those protections, and beware - right now the protections are only voluntary so they could be revoked.

"For those who use the cards in place of a bank account, it's important to be able to pay bills, add money, and withdraw cash without incurring a lot of fees," said Gilman.

The lowest-rated card, the Netspend Prepaid Visa Pay-As-You-Go, has relatively high fees, and there's always a fee to use an ATM.

In response, NetSpend says it offers "a feature rich product that may not be comparable to prepaid card programs Consumer Reports reviewed.

"The four highest-rated prepaid cards worked well for those who use them instead of a bank account, as well as for those who use them for shopping," said Gilman.

They are the Bluebird from American Express and Walmart, ChaseLiquid issued by Chase, the Green Dot Prepaid Visa, and the Halogen Reloadable Prepaid Card available at K-Mart.

All have low fees, voluntary safety protections and are widely accepted.

The government is expected to issue new regulations for prepaid cards shortly. They will guarantee protections for lost and stolen cards, and make it easier to understand and compare fees.

For more information from Consumer Reports about prepaid cards, CLICK HERE.

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