I bought tires from a tire shop when it offered a $100 mail-in rebate for a set of 4 tires of certain brands. The mail-in rebate came in the form of a prepaid debit card instead of just a plain old check. Companies do that because their rebate vendors convince them prepaid debit cards work better for their business.
If you receive a prepaid debit card with a small amount of money on it, it can be a hassle. You have to figure out how to get the money off it instead of just depositing a check.
You can use the card at any store, if you remember to bring it. These cards have an expiration date. If you forget to use it before expiration, you may lose the money on it.
Most stores can automatically get the remaining balance on the card. If you are buying $35.32 and your prepaid card only has $7.53 on it, you don’t have to remember how much you have left on the card or tell the cashier about it. The store’s system will know that when it tries to authorize $35.32. The bank will tell the store "I can’t approve $35.32 but I can approve $7.53." This is called a partial approval. The store will then take $7.53 from the prepaid card and ask you to pay the remainder.
A better way would be to use the prepaid card to make a one-time payment toward a utility service, such as a cell phone or Internet service. This way you can empty the entire balance on the prepaid card in one shot as soon as you receive the card. Even if the balance on the card exceeds your bill, the cell phone or Internet service provider will often accept a larger payment. They just carry the balance forward to the next month.
Here’s a screenshot from my cable company for how to pay a fixed dollar amount from a debit card:
Emptying the card in one shot is much more efficient than trying to remember to bring the card to the stores and actually use it. It also makes sure you get 100% of the money before the card expires. You lose the rewards you would otherwise earn if you pay with a credit card. There’s not much you can do about that.
You might wonder why companies send you these prepaid debit cards instead of a plain ol’ check.
A prepaid debit card carries the company’s logo. Unless you do it the way I’m suggesting here, it stays in your wallet longer, reminding you about the company every time you see it, versus a paper check you just deposit and forget. When you use the prepaid card, the bank gets a fee from the store. That lowers the net cost of issuing the rebate, maybe even makes it negative.
You can’t stop companies from sending you a prepaid card instead of a check. Getting a rebate on a prepaid card still beats not getting it at all. So you don’t have to go out of your way to avoid the prepaid cards. Just get the money off them in one fell swoop and you are done. It can be as easy as depositing a check.
[Photo credit: Flickr user scriptingnews]