If you’re struggling to recover from a year-long meth addiction, MasterCard would like you to know that it’s here to help. This week, the financial monolith will start distributing assistance in the form of a new prepaid debit card designed to keep recovering addicts on the straight and narrow. It’s called the Next Step card, and although it’s an interesting idea, it might be the sleaziest move MasterCard has made all year.
The card is the brainchild of three addicts, including former real estate broker Eric Dresdale. While in rehab for a pain pill addiction that cost him his career, Dresdale had an epiphany – that maybe having easy access to his money wasn’t such a good idea.
According to Dresdale, coping with life after rehab was “almost like learning how to walk again. I had to redevelop all of these life skills.” The ability to responsibly manage finances ranks pretty highly on the “life skills” list, and it struck Dresdale that the market could really use a product that teaches recovering addicts this kind accountability.
He hashed out the idea with some fellow rehabbers and together they pitched it to MasterCard. The company ate it up.
Two main features help the Next Step card keep recovering addicts on the path to recovery. First, the card will be locked down by several restrictions. It won’t work at strip clubs, casinos, tattoo parlors or liquor stores. It also prohibits ATM withdrawals and cash-back transactions. Without easy access to cash, it should be easier for addicts to avoid succumbing to temptation. Second, the Next Step will give cardholders’ family members access to their transaction records. This way, an addict’s loved ones will be able to make sure that he or she is staying honest.
All in all, the Next Step appears to be a useful product that will help many recovering addicts. But in the world of credit and debit, appearances are often deceiving. What the press releases fail to mention is that the Next Step card also carries a bevy of fees that are atypically high, even for a prepaid debit card. The card costs $9.95 to activate and then charges a $14.95 monthly fee on top of that. That puts annual cost of ownership at around $200 – and that’s not including the fees you’ll rack up for keeping too little money in an account, or for other arbitrary slip-ups.
It’s also important to note that the Next Step is by no means a 100% effective tool for keeping addicts in line. If the recovering cardholder happens to carry a separate debit or credit card in his or her wallet, then the Next Step will be for all intents and purposes useless. And even if the Next Step is the only piece of plastic in an addict’s wallet, they can still use it to buy “vice merchandise” from non-barred locations. For example, they can purchase liquor from a grocery store.
So while the Next Step card is interesting, it isn’t anything to write home about. The features that make the card “safe” for recovering addicts are easily bypassed. The card might get a dedicated rehabber to think twice about a purchase, but it won’t prevent a determined addict from relapsing. Worst of all, the fees make the card a flat-out ripoff. Prepaid debit cards are already gouging unbanked consumers for everything they’re worth, and the Next Step’s fees are very, very high. You shouldn’t have to pay $200 a year for the kind of service that the Next Step provides.
If you really want the recovering addict in your life to stay healthy, spend time with the person. Attend weekly counseling sessions together. Find constructive outlets that distract them from the urge to use. Coping with life after rehab isn’t easy, and the Next Step debit card isn’t going to make it any easier – just more expensive.