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What are Prepaid Visa and Mastercard Gift Cards? Prepaid cards and gift cards sound alike, since you can stash cash on each of them. But they have some key differences. For starters, prepaid cards are winning the popularity contest. The cards, that are reloadable, are adding more balance, although you may pay dearly for the privilege. Meanwhile, gift cards, which are often 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 definitely more complicated and multifunctional.” She expects gift certificates to eventually fall from the wayside as prepaid cards grow in popularity, along with their uses. Right now, the two cards get some overlap simply because they can both be employed to control spending. “They can be a bank checking account alternative,” Van Dyke says.

Below are a few key differences to learn when shopping for either card. Prepaid Gift Card Flexibility. Gift certificates 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 departmental stores – offer the cards for purchases at those locations. The cards are excellent deals for the buyer or the recipient, says McBride. The reason why: A $100 gift card results in $100 of getting power.

“So you do have a lot more flexibility inside your spending,” adds Harrine Freeman, a financial counselor at Maryland-based H.E. Freeman Enterprises. Nevertheless they are more inclined to carry fees, in accordance with, which can be belonging to Bankrate.

You can even easily buy, sell or trade gift certificates online, Freeman says. And after the Bank Card Act was passed during 2009, gift card expirations were extended to five-years following the activation date. On the downside, gift cards may be overly simple. They often don’t have account management tools and may be used just once, Van Dyke says.

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

Increasingly more banks, such as PNC, U.S. Bank and JPMorgan Chase & Co., offer their particular prepaid cards, based on the Consumers Union. The cards are generally simple to get because you don’t need a banking account or even a credit history.

People counting their pennies can use prepaid cards as budgeting tools by loading vacation funds onto them, McBride says. Some prepaid cards offer online for free bill pay, which can save consumers money, based on 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 that budget-minded, gift cards will often have only low or no fees. However, prepaid card fees vary widely and may quickly ding you. “Some prepaid cards work like good atm cards, given that they have low fees or waived fees,” Javelin’s Van Dyke says. “However, in the event you pick 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, login that sit unused in a drawer uryelx start logging fees. “So, you really have to evaluate how you’ll be employing the card,” McBride says.

Gift cards which are lost or stolen may mean the buyer loses out. “A thief can access all of the money on the card,” says Freeman. However, if you’ve registered the credit card, you might get a few of your money back, but you also may be charged a fee, she says. One caveat: Gift cards 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 right to redeem a card for cash, according to the Consumers Union.

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

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