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

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

Below are a few key differences to learn when searching for either card. Prepaid Gift Card Flexibility. Gift cards are generally confined to purchases at a retailer, says Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst at Typically, big retailers – as well as smaller ones in shopping malls – offer the cards for purchases at those locations. The cards are excellent deals for that buyer or perhaps the recipient, says McBride. The reason why: A $100 gift card results in $100 of buying power.

“So there is a whole lot more flexibility within your spending,” adds Harrine Freeman, an economic 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 after the Charge Card Act was passed during 2009, gift card expirations were extended to 5 years after the activation date. On the downside, gift cards could be overly simple. They often don’t have account management tools and can be used just once, Van Dyke says.

Conversely, McBride says, prepaid cards can be used for an array of transactions including making withdrawals from ATMs. So they can sometimes be used as banking accounts substitutes, which is why their popularity is quickly rising. Prepaid cards also can be loaded online or at retail locations.

More and more banks, like PNC, U.S. Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co., offer their particular prepaid cards, based on the Consumers Union. The cards are usually simple to get because you don’t need to have a banking account or a credit score.

People counting their pennies may use prepaid cards as budgeting tools by loading vacation funds onto them, McBride says. Some prepaid cards also provide free online bill pay, which can save consumers money, in accordance with Consumers Union. If you wish to collect points for shopping, some prepaid cards even offer rewards programs. “But I’ve never seen a present card that offers rewards,” Van Dyke says.

Prepaid Cards Fees. For the budget-minded, gift cards 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, should you select the wrong card, you might end up having 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 of the cards surveyed charged monthly maintenance fees. And 53 percent have activation fees, starting from $2.95 to $9.95. Unlike gift cards, balance 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 cards which are lost or stolen may mean the customer loses out. “A thief has access to each of the money on the card,” says Freeman. However, if you’ve registered the credit card, you might get some of a refund, however you may also be charged a fee, she says. One caveat: Gift cards issued with Visa or MasterCard logos are protected by bank card laws. And state laws governing gift certificates can also put in a layer of protection, including requiring more disclosures or the right to redeem a card for cash, based on the Consumers Union.

Prepaid cards may offer more consumer protections than gift certificates, but rules vary. Many times, fraud protections are only “vaguely defined,” based on the Consumers Union report. And prepaid card protections can be voluntarily withdrawn at any time.