A guide to lifeline bank accounts and prepaid debit cards
Basic banking or “lifeline” accounts
Lifeline bank accounts offer significant savings to consumers. All banks in the state of New York must offer them.
There are some restrictions. Your financial institution may require you to:
- have direct deposit of your Social Security, wage, or pension payments
- close any other transaction accounts
Here is what to expect if you open a lifeline account:
- low initial deposit: You can open your lifeline account with a deposit of only $25.
- minimum balance: To keep the account open, you will need only one penny on deposit as a minimum balance.
- maintaining your account: Your financial institution cannot charge you more than $3 per month to maintain your lifeline account.
- free withdrawals: You can make withdrawals from your lifeline account at least eight times per month at no charge.
- no monthly minimum deposit: There are no restrictions or penalties as to the minimum number of deposits you make per month.
If your bank doesn’t offer a “lifeline” account: Contact the Office of the New York Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline 1-800-771-7755
“Stored-value” or prepaid debit cards
Prepaid debit cards can receive deposits (cash or direct deposit from an employer or government agency) and be used to make payments or withdraw cash from an ATM. Often the cards are “branded” by major credit card companies and can be used anywhere those cards are accepted. Here are some issues to consider:
- Prepaid debit cards may have unexpected charges, such as fees for activation, monthly service, reloading money, ATM withdrawals, and balance inquiries, as well as fees for making a purchase when there is not enough money on the card. There may also be a fee if you close the account or don’t use the card for a few months.
- Unlike a credit or debit card linked to a bank account, there are often no protections if the card is lost or stolen.
- Finally, although prepaid debit cards are often marketed to those with credit problems, using one will not help repair a poor credit history.
Before signing up for a prepaid debit card, look carefully at all the costs involved with using one. Compare the costs with those involved with a lifeline account or a local credit union. Most important, carefully consider which banking options offer you the most protection against loss or fraud.
Your bank doesn’t offer a “lifeline” account?
Contact the Office of the New York State Attorney General’s Consumer Protection hotline: 1-800-771-7755
Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection
New York City office: 212-416-8300
28 Liberty Street
New York NY 10005
Albany office: 518-776-2307
Albany, NY 12224