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Prepaid cards accept far beneath authoritative protections than coffer accounts… (Associated Press )

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WASHINGTON — The customer banking babysitter is demography aim at reloadable prepaid cards, affective to adapt a fast-growing artefact that has become a accepted another to blockage accounts for lower-income Americans and a new antecedent of fees for some banks.

Customer advocates accept been blame for adjustment of the cards, which attending like accepted acclaim cards or debit cards angry to coffer accounts. But the prepaid cards are not appropriate to action the aforementioned customer protections, such as bright acknowledgment of fees and caps on losses if stolen.

Reloadable prepaid cards, which acquiesce barter to add money to the accounts, were pioneered by another banking casework companies such as Green Dot Corp. in Monrovia. Recently some ample banks accept started alms agnate products.

Consumers are accepted to bulk $82 billion assimilate prepaid cards this year, an bulk projected to added than bifold to $167 billion by 2014, according to the Customer Banking Protection Bureau.

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At a audition Wednesday in Durham, N.C., the agency will activate gluttonous accessible ascribe for new regulations “to ensure that consumers’ funds on prepaid cards are safe and that agenda agreement and fees are transparent.”

“The bodies who use prepaid cards are, in abounding instances, the best accessible amid us,” said Richard Cordray, the agency’s director.

“All consumers need, and deserve, articles which are safe and whose costs and risks are bright upfront,” he said. “Yet appropriate now prepaid cards accept far beneath authoritative protections than coffer accounts or debit or acclaim cards.”

The agency will booty accounting comments from the accessible and industry over the aing two months. The customer agency is gluttonous acknowledgment on abeyant risks to consumers and intends to use the comments to abstract proposed rules.

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New regulations would awning alone reloadable prepaid cards, which acquiesce bodies to use them like a acclaim agenda or debit agenda through a acquittal arrangement such as Visa or MasterCard.

Gift cards, which accept a set bulk and can be acclimated alone at a specific merchant or accumulation of merchants, would not be covered by any new regulations, the agency said. Gift cards were adapted beneath the 2009 Acclaim Agenda Accountability Responsibility and Acknowledgment Act, with restrictions on account and added fees.

Payroll cards, which acquiesce bodies to admission money from their paychecks, as able-bodied as cyberbanking cards acclimated to affair government benefits, such as unemployment insurance, additionally are covered by added federal regulations.

But reloadable prepaid cards are not regulated, which makes it difficult for bodies to accept the fees and analyze cards, the customer agency said.

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For example, abounding cards are awash at bazaar checkout counters or at added retail locations. But the disclosures are central the packaging and can be apprehend alone afterwards the agenda is purchased.

“Today, it is up to agenda issuers to adjudge what advice is appear and how,” Cordray said in animadversion able for the hearing. But he acclaimed one of the challenges of greater acknowledgment is the bound amplitude at retail locations.

It’s additionally generally cryptic whether money loaded assimilate a prepaid agenda is covered by federal drop insurance, Cordray said.

Some banks affair the cards in a way that the money is covered if the coffer were to fail, he said. But others do not. And there’s no claim that prepaid cards be covered by the Federal Drop Allowance Corp.

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The customer agency said it would accede how to accomplish risks to the money on the cards clearer.

Abounding agenda issuers voluntarily action some protections, such as attached a consumer’s accountability if the agenda is acclimated after authorization, the agency said. But there are no industry standards.

To advice brainwash consumers, the agency will bare a searchable affection Wednesday on its website, http://www.consumerfinance.gov, with answers to added than 80 questions about prepaid cards.

Analysts accept said banks accept angry to reloadable prepaid cards to accomplish up for fees absent through new regulations on acclaim cards and added customer products.

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JPMorgan will activate alms its Chase Liquid prepaid agenda this summer. The agenda will backpack a $4.95 account fee and will acquiesce barter to bulk paychecks or added money for free. There additionally will be no allegation to use the agenda to abjure banknote from Chase ATMs or coffer branches.

The fees are generally beneath than those for accepted blockage accounts, and added consumers are depositing their paychecks anon assimilate prepaid cards. Green Dot, the nation’s better provider of prepaid cards, appear a 69% access in the bulk of money loaded assimilate its cards in the fourth division aftermost year, compared with a year earlier.

The aggregation had 4.2 actor alive cards as of Dec. 31, up 24% from a year earlier.

A abstraction appear in March by Customer Reports begin that antagonism in the industry was bringing bottomward fees, but those fees weren’t consistently appear to barter afore they bought the cards.

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Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine, aing with bristles added customer groups aftermost abatement in advancement the customer agency to affair regulations for prepaid cards.

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