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What are Prepaid Visa and Mastercard Gift Certificates? Prepaid cards and gift cards sound alike, since you can stash money on each of them. However they have some key differences. To begin with, prepaid cards are winning the popularity contest. The cards, which can be reloadable, are adding more, even though you may pay dearly for the privilege. Meanwhile, gift cards, which are generally for more limited one-time uses but have few fees, are losing favor, Mercator Advisory Group says.

“Gift cards have limited functionality and they are very straightforward,” says Aleia Van Dyke, a study consultant at Javelin Strategy and Research. “But prepaid cards are definitely more complicated and multifunctional.” She expects gift cards to eventually fall through the wayside as prepaid cards grow in popularity, together with their uses. For now, both cards get some overlap simply because they can both be used to control spending. “They can be quite a checking account alternative,” Van Dyke says.

Here are some key differences to learn when shopping for either card. Prepaid Gift Card Flexibility. Gift certificates are usually limited to purchases in a retailer, says Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst at Typically, big retailers – and even smaller ones in shopping malls – offer the cards for purchases at those locations. The cards are good deals for your buyer or perhaps the recipient, says McBride. The main reason: A $100 gift card means $100 of purchasing power.

“So there is a lot more flexibility within your spending,” adds Harrine Freeman, a financial counselor at Maryland-based H.E. Freeman Enterprises. Nevertheless they will probably carry fees, in accordance with, which can be properties of Bankrate.

You can even easily buy, sell or trade gift cards online, Freeman says. And following the Credit CARD Act was passed in 2009, gift card expirations were extended to five-years following the activation date. On the downside, gift certificates may be overly simple. They usually don’t come with account management tools and can be utilized just once, Van Dyke says.

Conversely, McBride says, prepaid cards can be used for a variety of transactions including making withdrawals from ATMs. To allow them to sometimes be used as banking accounts substitutes, which is the reason their popularity is quickly rising. Prepaid cards can also be loaded online or at retail locations.

Increasingly more banks, like PNC, U.S. Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co., offer their particular prepaid cards, in accordance with the Consumers Union. The cards are generally simple to get since you don’t require a bank account or perhaps a credit history.

People counting their pennies are able to use prepaid cards as budgeting tools by loading vacation funds onto them, McBride says. Some prepaid cards offer online bill pay, which can save consumers money, based on Consumers Union. In order to collect points for shopping, some prepaid cards even offer rewards programs. “But I’ve never seen a great gift card that provides rewards,” Van Dyke says.

Prepaid Cards Fees. For that budget-minded, gift certificates usually have only low or no fees. However, prepaid card fees vary widely and will quickly ding you. “Some prepaid cards work like good debit cards, because they have low fees or waived fees,” Javelin’s Van Dyke says. “However, in the event you select the wrong card, you could end up with plenty of fees.”

McBride says probably the most prevalent prepaid fees are activation fees, ATM access fees and monthly service fees. In accordance with Bankrate’s 2014 Prepaid Card Survey, 83 percent in the cards surveyed charged monthly maintenance fees. And 53 percent have activation fees, which range from $2.95 to $9.95. Unlike gift cards, https // that sit unused in a drawer uryelx start logging fees. “So, you really have to evaluate how you’ll be using the credit card,” McBride says.

Gift certificates which are lost or stolen may mean the consumer loses out. “A thief can access all the money on the card,” says Freeman. However, if you’ve registered the card, you might get some of a refund, but you also may be charged a fee, she says. One caveat: Gift certificates issued with Visa or MasterCard logos are protected by credit card laws. And state laws governing gift cards also can put in a layer of protection, including requiring more disclosures or the authority to redeem a card for cash, based on the Consumers Union.

Prepaid cards may offer more consumer protections than gift cards, but rules vary. Often times, fraud protections are merely “vaguely defined,” based on the Consumers Union report. And prepaid card protections can be voluntarily withdrawn anytime.