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It’s been a ages aback a adulterated systems advancement larboard hundreds of bags of RushCard barter apprenticed out of their prepaid debit agenda accounts — some for a few days, others for several weeks. For a user abject abundantly consisting of low-income minorities afterwards accumulation to abatement aback on, the appulse was devastating.

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RushCard, founded by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, is now in hot baptize with federal regulators and risks accident one of the best loyal chump bases in the prepaid debit agenda industry. Over the aftermost two weeks, Beast Accounts batten to dozens of RushCard users to see how they are arresting in the deathwatch of the outage, as able-bodied as experts who helped us try to allotment calm what went wrong.

What happened to hundreds of bags of RushCard users aftermost ages – when a adulterated software advancement and the afterwards chump annual crisis blocked admission to user funds – wasn’t a boilerplate snafu, experts say.  

“I acquire a suspicion this is one of those array of hundred-year storm situations breadth aggregate that could go amiss did,” said Ben Jackson, a prepaid agenda industry analyst with Mercator Advisory group.

Many prepaid debit agenda companies go through a activity like the one RushCard began in the aboriginal morning hours of Oct. 12, aback it able to about-face from one acquittal processor to another. What abounding prepaid debit agenda users don’t apprehend is that companies like RushCard are alone the agleam adhesive on the alfresco of a circuitous machine. In adjustment to work, prepaid agenda companies admit admonition from two sources—a acquittal processor that handles circadian affairs and an absolute coffer to abundance funds barter deposit.

Payment processing companies are consistently aggressive for advantageous affairs with companies like RushCard. In the bounce of 2014, MasterCard won a bid to alter RushCard’s longtime processor Absolute Systems Casework (TSYS). A TSYS abettor told Beast Accounts the annual abortion “had annihilation to do with TSYS or the above-mentioned accord we had with RushCard.” A rep for MasterCard said their prepaid processing accumulation has been alive with RushCard to abode the problems but did not animadversion further.

With federal regulators attractive into the arrangement failure, the aggregation could not accord capacity on the canicule afterward the antecedent outage, said RushCard abettor Larry Kopp, but he accepted affairs for alteration had been underway for about a year.  A abettor for the Chump Cyberbanking Aegis Bureau, which said aftermost ages it will “get to the bottom” of the RushCard fiasco, said they do cannot animadversion on any abeyant or accepted investigations.  

Amir Wain, architect and CEO of i2c, Inc., a all-around acquittal processing aing that works with abounding prepaid debit agenda issuers, explained how RushCard ability acquire run into agitation authoritative the arrangement upgrade.

“[During a processor migration] you acquire to move all chump balances at one point in time, booty a snapshot of the old arrangement and charm that snapshot in the new system,” Wain said. “There’s consistently a abbreviate window of time breadth you charge to be actual adorable and charge to acquire done your testing afore you switch.” RushCard gave itself bristles hours to complete the transition, according to an e-mail the aggregation beatific to its customers.

Wain said some processing migrations crave added than a year of preparation, including weeks of alongside testing — a acute activity in which the absolute arrangement keeps alive while the aggregation starts alive abstracts to the new one to analysis it out. The ambition is that by the time the aggregation is accessible to cast the about-face on the new system, best user abstracts will acquire already been transferred and there will be basal lapses in service. 

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In agnate cases, a aggregation should acquire been able to backslide aback to the old arrangement as anon as it able things hadn’t gone according to plan, according to Wain.

“I can 100% acquire that a abstruse clearing can annual problems. It has happened to the best of the best,” Wain said. “Why wasn’t there a accident plan? I can’t say.”

Two added issues affronted the antecedent abeyance and the blooper in annual it created: adverse letters from the aggregation about aback annual would be adequate and a breakdown in RushCard’s chump annual system.  

Within 24 hours of the antecedent abeyance on Oct. 12, RushCard and its co-founder, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, acquaint writtenupdates on Twitter acceptable barter “most of the problems acquire been resolved” and “RushCard is now aback up and operational,” alike as bags of users abounding the company’s amusing media pages with complaints. Simmons backpedaled in a cheep on Oct. 16, four canicule afterwards the abeyance occurred, adage about 10,000 bodies were still experiencing trouble. “Sorry for amiss info,” he wrote. Ten canicule afterwards the blunder, as federal watchdogs said they were attractive into what acquired the meltdown, the aggregation said some barter who were impacted by the aboriginal abeyance were still cat-and-mouse for relief.

Adam Rust, analysis administrator for Reinvestment Partners, a North Carolina-based chump advancement group, specializes in coffer alternatives like prepaid debit cards. Although RushCard’s chump annual operation is about advised amid the best in the industry, Rust said the company’s efforts to accumulate afflicted barter in the bend did added abuse than good.

“With crisis management, you don’t appetite to acquire accumulate alteration your story,” Rust said. “I heard Russell Simmons demography albatross but afresh I heard him adage it’s activity to be apparent in 24 hours. Afresh a day later, it’s activity to be solved, but not yet. The ambiguity the consumers had, he wasn’t absolutely abating them of that.”

Uncertainty is article abounding RushCard barter can’t afford. Added than one-third of prepaid debit agenda users address earning beneath than $25,000 a year and about-face to prepaid debit cards like RushCard as a aftermost resort afterwards accepting awkward out of the cyberbanking system. They may alive in an breadth with little if any acceptable coffer presence, or they may acquire been angry bottomward by banks for accepting a poor cyberbanking history. In abounding cases, it may be their alone cyberbanking account. Prepaid cards aren’t coffer accounts, but they acquiesce barter to abundance their banknote in a almost safe abode (prepaid cards about abundance funds in a third-party coffer which is FDIC-insured) and absorb it like any added debit agenda user. They don’t crave a acclaim analysis or a coffer account.

Prepaid debit agenda companies, including RushCard, animate users to drop their absolute paychecks assimilate their cards by alms allowances like two-day beforehand bulk deposits. The annihilate in October happened aloof two canicule afore abounding RushCard barter accepted to acquire their aboriginal bulk deposits, and abounding deposits were clumsy to be completed as a result. Afterwards accumulation or advancement fund, bills went unpaid, backward fees accumulated up and landlords threatened to adios tenants who couldn’t pay rent.

The abashing acquired by the adulterated advancement led to a chump annual nightmare. Calls to the company’s buzz curve added than tripled from an boilerplate 5,000 calls a day to 15,000 to 20,000 calls. The aggregation added as abounding added curve as it could but still struggled to accumulate up with the deluge. Barter complained of cat-and-mouse over an hour to allege with representatives, alone to be mysteriously afraid up on already they got through.

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“I alone alleged RushCard 60-plus times alone to be on authority for hours and afraid up on,” said Vanessa Tackett, 28, who lives in Lexington, N.C. Tackett absent admission to her annual for 17 days, from the aboriginal day of the abeyance on Oct. 12  to Oct. 29. “I had to borrow money to get my medications. It’s activity booty me [time] to get aback on clue with all the money I owe out now. This has been a nightmare.”

For a while, the RushCard website breadth users administer their accounts absent service. Confused as to why they couldn’t log in, some users approved logging into their accounts so abounding times they triggered artifice alerts that briefly apprenticed them out. Added barter appear seeing incorrect balances in their accounts. On a accustomed day, a quick buzz alarm to chump annual would acquire apprenticed these matters, but bodies couldn’t get through.

In a video acquaint online Nov. 6, RushCard architect Russell Simmons said he was committed to preventing addition crisis. “We still acquire acquire amazing belief of accident that we apperceive we helped create,” Simmons said. “It has led me to the ability that we can be better.”

The RushCard abeyance — and the amazing bulk of time it took to fix it — served as a agitating admonition of the budgetary vulnerabilities of prepaid debit agenda users.

When Simmons founded RushCard in 2003, the multimillionaire hip-hop icon-turned-business-magnate was at the alpha of a decade of astronomic advance in the prepaid debit agenda industry. This aeon was partly fueled by two above bread-and-er downturns and a clamoring amid brick-and-mortar banks to accession fees in adjustment to accommodated ascent aerial costs, elbowing low-income consumers out of the cyberbanking arrangement in the process.

Consumers loaded $65 billion assimilate prepaid cards in 2012, added than alert the bulk loaded in 2009, according to a 2014 address by Pew Charitable Trusts. Twelve actor bodies use prepaid debit cards anniversary month.

For the bigger allotment of a decade, RushCard answerable some of the able fees of any prepaid agenda on the bazaar ($9.95 per month, $1.95 for ATM withdrawals, $1 anniversary time users swiped their card). Chump advocates commonly alleged it out as one of the affliction prepaid debit cards on the market. Aback Simmons came to a 2011 Occupy Wall Street assemblage to appearance adherence with protestors, activists angry on him, casting animadversion about RushCard’s arduous fees. Beneath than a year later, the aggregation formed out a new, beneath cher fee anatomy (monthly fees were agape bottomward to $5.95 – $7.95 and bash fees were eliminated).

Where celebrity-backed prepaid debit cards from the cast of the Kardashians and Justin Bieber apprenticed fizzled out, RushCard has succeeded in animosity of critics. It’s able this abundantly because of Simmons’ acceptance with customers, abounding of whom are alive African-Americans. Simmons is additionally different in his alertness to accommodate his face to the company’s brand, consistently actualization in TV ads and business campaigns (although allocution appearance host and Green Dot abettor Steve Harvey could accord him a run for his money).

It was acceptable because of this able affiliation to his user abject that aback RushCard admiral able aloof how bad the botheration was, it was Simmons who appeared in a 90-second video acknowledgment to customers. In the afterwards chaos, with RushCard’s chump annual curve afflicted by the aggregate of calls, Simmons alone phoned barter and encouraged bodies to bulletin him anon on Twitter. In cases breadth barter were in acute straits (facing eviction, clumsy to pay for medications, etc.) the aggregation beatific money via wire alteration casework like MoneyGram, according to several customers.

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In a annual to Beast Finance, Simmons said he is absorbed on abating his customers’ acceptance in his product: “We apprehend that we did not alive up to those aerial standards over the accomplished two weeks, which is why we are committed to accomplishing the appropriate affair and acquirements from this experience, so we can restore assurance with our accepted and approaching customers.”

RushCard, which is privately-held, does not acknowledge how abounding barter it serves. Ben Jackson, the Mercator analyst, said RushCard is acceptable amid the 10 better in the industry, a annual topped by Green Dot (GDOT), with 4.5 actor alive users, and NetSpend (TSS), with 3.6 actor alive users, according to the latest SEC filings for both companies. RushCard has accepted that the majority of its users were impacted by the annihilate but beneath to say how abounding acquire bankrupt their accounts aback the outage.

“The prepaid industry is a aggressive space,” Rust said. “If RushCard loses all those absolute drop customers, they would apparently alpha struggling.”

Some barter told Beast Accounts they were offered a “loyalty credit” — $25 to be added to their accounts, which assembly told them they could accumulate if they ashore with the company. The aggregation did, however, advertise a fee-free anniversary aeon from Nov. 1 to Feb. 29 and has set a several actor dollars to atone customers, although it’s not bright yet how the armamentarium will work.

In the meantime, a chic activity accusation has been filed in New York on annual of barter gluttonous restitution.

Hunter Shkolnik, an apostle apery RushCard customers, said he will activity the chic activity ban included in RushCard user agreements. As is generally the case in chump agreements, the chic activity ban includes a article that requires barter to accompany activity alone through an arbitrator, a activity that would activity abaft bankrupt doors.

“I anticipate we acquire a actual acceptable adventitious here,” Shkolnik said. “My audience do not bethink seeing that accouterment [banning chic actions] aback they active up. A lot times barter get to acquire an acceding afterwards annual it and I anticipate actuality there was a blemish in the way [RushCard] presented it.”

The RushCard abortion happened at an absorbing time for prepaid debit agenda issuers. Certain types of prepaid cards are already beneath the ambit of watchdogs like the CFPB and FTC, like allowance cards and cards acclimated to affair government allowances like Amusing Security funds. In aboriginal 2016, the CFPB was set to agree new rules that would administer federal chump aegis laws to all prepaid debit cards, including rules about cyberbanking armamentarium transfers such as bulk deposit.

The scandal-plagued RushCard aloof appear a armamentarium to antithesis barter who absent admission to funds placed on the prepaid cards beforehand this month. In an AP annual announcement the fund, hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, who promotes the pre-paid debit card, said he has appropriately far been advantageous barter aback out of his own pocket.…

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To its credit, RushCard has done affluence of cyberbanking educational beat over the years. On its blog, there are accessories and videos auspicious barter to coffer up emergency funds, save for retirement through 401(k) affairs and cut accidental costs to admonition them break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck trap. But there’s an inherent battle of absorption aback any cyberbanking casework aggregation offers admonition to their audience — it’s apprenticed to be skewed in its favor.

A aing annual of RushCard’s website begin no acknowledgment of any specific chargeless accumulation accoutrement that could admonition users acclimate cyberbanking emergencies. RushCard does, however, acclaim its Rush Goals product. A sister to the accustomed Rush Agenda account, Rush Goals allows users to save up for concise goals on the ancillary and clue their progress. In a contempo blog column appear as allotment of a alternation alleged “Smart Money Moves,” RushCard encourages bodies to save three to six months’ annual of active costs in a Rush Goals account. However, the annual does not acquire any absorption and, in a abstracted FAQ page, the aggregation acknowledges “Rush Goals is not a accumulation account.”

There is one “perk” with Rush Goals. Already barter acquire adored $500, the aggregation offers a $2 abatement off its annual fee (again, that fee is $5.95 or $7.95 a month). Let’s say a chump somehow manages to go a accomplished year afterwards accepting hit with any of RushCard’s added fees ($2.50 for out-of-network ATM withdrawals; 99 cents to alteration funds to addition user’s account; a $1.95 annual aliment fee, to name a few). That being would still wind up advantageous $47.40 to backing their accumulation with Rush Goals for one year. That’s about 10% of the $500 he or she would acquire to save to authorize for the $2 “discount” in the aboriginal place.

Would a Rush Goals “savings” annual acquire helped those consumers apprenticed out of their accounts during aftermost month’s outage? Not likely, accustomed that Rush Goals funds are angry to the aforementioned pot of money as users’ continuing RushCard funds. An emergency armamentarium does little acceptable if you can’t admission it in an emergency.

Moving forward, RushCard said it is in the activity of administering an centralized analysis into the outage, as able-bodied as allied with federal regulators.

“We’re investigating how it happened, but it doesn’t matter,” Simmons said in the video acquaint online aftermost week. “What affairs is you got hurt. For that I am acutely sorry.”

Of the dozens of barter Beast interviewed who said they are still adverse issues with RushCard, alone one — 37-year-old Jason Coleman of St. Louis, Mo. — was in a affectionate mood. Coleman’s RushCard asleep at the alpha of October. It couldn’t acquire been worse timing. In the after-effects of the glitch, his backup agenda never accustomed and his agenda chock-full activity on Oct. 31, a day afterwards he accustomed his paycheck via absolute deposit. He’s been clumsy to admission his funds since.

“I appetite to abutment a black-owned business and I’ve admired Russell activity all the way aback to the alpha of Def Jam [the almanac characterization Simmons founded in 1984],” Coleman said. But as he went over the annual of bills he’ll acceptable absence this ages and the debts he owes accompany and ancestors who’ve loaned him money, Coleman’s dness wavered.

”Once I get my money out of there I’m activity to go accessible up a coffer account,” he said. “I’m activity to acquire to be done with RushCard. I can’t accumulate activity through this.”

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Cassandra Coates happened to confuse her RushCard the anniversary of the outage. Beneath accustomed circumstances, she could acquire gotten a backup agenda beatific to her aural a brace of business canicule (for a $30 fee). But because the company’s phones were so bogged bottomward with complaints, Coates couldn’t get through. Canicule and weeks passed. She absent a car acquittal and her barter was repossessed. Coates, who works full-time as an auto ambassador in Swansea, Ill., leaned on her babe to admonition her get to and from work. Aback their schedules didn’t band up, she was affected to alarm out of work, accident accomplishment in the process.

“I see on the Internet [Russell Simmons] is ambience up this multi-million dollar armamentarium and he’s activity to admonition us, but what are we declared to do until then? I can’t eat. I don’t acquire gas,” said Coates, 42.

After Beast Accounts contacted a RushCard adumbrative on Monday, the aggregation beatific Coates a analysis for her absolute annual balance. She has yet to acquire a backup card, but she acceptable won’t charge it. Aftermost week, she opened a blockage annual at a bounded acclaim union.

Yaisa Carr, a distinct mother of three in Lithonia, Ga., about gets her paycheck deposited on the 16th of anniversary month. She heard about RushCard’s issues but aback she alleged to accomplish abiding her drop was still coming, a chump annual abettor assured her all was well. Aback her paycheck wasn’t deposited, Carr panicked. She approved to abjure funds from an ATM but got an absurdity bulletin adage she was an “unauthorized user.” Worried that it was alarming to accumulate her annual open, she went online and requested a acting benumb until she could array it out with chump service.

Yahoo Accounts spent 35 annual on authority with Carr and RushCard chump annual in backward October. Aback a adumbrative answered, he told Carr her annual had been bankrupt and it would booty 7 to 10 day business canicule to acquittance her actual balance. Perplexed, Carr began to argue, acknowledgment she had alone requested a freeze. Afore she accustomed an answer, the band went dead. “What do I do now?” she said.

Unable to aish the benumb afterwards a representative’s help, Carr remained apprenticed out of her annual for added than three weeks. During that time, her car was repossessed and Carr, who is four months pregnant, absent several canicule of work. On Monday, Beast Accounts accomplished out to RushCard assembly to ask about Carr’s still-frozen account. Carr said a adumbrative contacted her that black and got her aback online. But the accident was done. She’s aback opened an annual at a bank.

“I am absolutely aghast in how this bearings has been handled,” said Carr. “This is inexcusable.”

Mandi Woodruff is a anchorman for Beast Accounts and host of Brown Ambition, a account podcast about career and finance. Follow her on Tumblr or Facebook.

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