An announcement by MasterCard and Western Union this week that they will team up to let MasterCard prepaid card holders reload their cards at over 45,000 Western Union Agent locations is good news for anyone who regularly uses prepaid cards, which need to be loaded with money before they can be used. The new Western Union locations, when added to MasterCard’s existing reload stations, add up to over 100,000 locations where MasterCard prepaid cards can be reloaded – the largest network in the nation.
Any prepaid card with the MasterCard rePower logo on it will be able to be reloaded at Western Union locations, and the rePower network is available to any issuer of MasterCard prepaid cards.
In the announcement of this deal, Mike Hafer, senior VP at Western Union’s Global Prepaid division, summed up its significance this way: “Before you can use a prepaid card to shop online or pay bills, you must first be able to add funds to it . . . it is easy to find a Western Union location and have the funds available almost immediately. Just visit your neighborhood Western Union location and you leave with the funds conveniently loaded on your prepaid card.”
Underbanked and Unbanked
This news is of particular interest to underbanked consumers, who may have trouble getting a traditional credit card, either because they have bad credit, no credit, or are recent immigrants to the US. In a world where plastic is a necessity – for online shopping, paying muni-meters, and holding reservations – prepaid cards can be the answer when no other credit or debit card is available.
Estimates say that there are more than 2.5 billion adults worldwide, 68 million of whom reside in the United States. These numbers come from the recently released FDIC study, “National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked,” which tracks both the unbanked – people without bank accounts – and the underbanked – people without access to credit. For these people, prepaid cards are a bridge to financial survival, giving them a way to manage their money electronically and not be completely cash-dependent.
Teaming Up to Provide Service
This partnership is only the first phase of a global effort by Western Union and MasterCard to make financial services, including electronic payments, more accessible for customers, and easier to use.
“MasterCard believes in offering products and services to people without access to traditional checking accounts and extending entry into the marketplace with a safe, cost-effective and convenient electronic payment alternative,” says MasterCard executive Ron Hynes in a press release issued this week. Hynes continued, “By partnering with Western Union, we’re able to provide more reload locations to our prepaid cardholders, many of whom rely on prepaid cards to give them low-cost access to a payment network for paying bills and building savings.”
Picking a Prepaid Card
There are many prepaid cards on the market, but Western Union has some of the best, having won awards this year for best prepaid cards offered. When searching for a prepaid card, customers should look at the fees charged for things like loading the card, withdrawing cash from ATMs, setting up automatic payments, and getting copies of statements. Fees vary widely for all of these things, since there are currently no federal regulations in place for the prepaid card industry – something that may change soon.
MasterCard prepaid cardholders will now have the greatest choice of places to reload, since they can now add Western Union to the list of reload locations, which already included Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and Radio Shack.