Canadian teen-pop superstar Justin Bieber has endorsed all kinds of products, from nail polish and perfume to marijuana (okay, so that one was unofficial). But now hes backing a decidedly more grown-up thing financial literacy. Yes, The Biebs just inked a $3.75 million endorsement deal with a prepaid debit card company whose stated goal is to help teach teenagers financial responsibility. Of course, the words financial responsibility and prepaid debit cards dont often appear together in the same sentence, but some experts say the SpendSmart card might not be so bad. Is it possible that theyre right?
Though the Bieber endorsement is new, the company and its prepaid card for teenagers is not. SpendSmart started out in 2009 under a different name BillMyParents. The concept — allowing kids to spend and their parents to monitor was pretty similar. But the product didn’t take off, probably because parents aren’t too keen on the idea of being viewed as human ATM machines that simply foot the bill, as the old name implied. So, the company rebranded itself, throwing in the financial responsibility angle to help change perceptions.
Nothing about this prepaid MasterCard has changed since The Biebs signed on. There are no new fees or other costs. In fact, some people are actually praising the card for going relatively light on the fees and for the fact that you actually get a little something out of the deal (the parental control).
Heres how it works. When the teen uses the card, his or her parents will be alerted by text message or smartphone app. Parents can set the card up to automatically block online purchases and can place a hold on the card if they object to any transactions. SpendSmart calls these teachable moments and claims that this real-time monitoring facilitates financial responsibility.
As for the fees, its $3.95 per month just for having the card. Youll pay $2.95 to add money to the card from another card or 75 cents to do so from a bank account. It costs $1.50 to withdraw money from any ATM, and its 50 cents to check your balance at an ATM in addition to any other charges incurred by the ATM itself. A replacement card costs $7.95, and youll be charged $3 for every 30 days you dont use it.
While these fees are indeed smaller than those of many other prepaid cards, theyre still fees and according to consumer advocates, theyre still unnecessary. When the Fox Business Network asked John Ulzheimer, the president of consumer education at SmartCredit, what he thought about the matter, heres what he said: Thats like saying my broken arm is not as bad as your broken arm.
While the goal of teaching financial responsibility to young people is certainly one we can get behind, you don’t achieve it by providing a product that is the antithesis of that. Simply opening a good ol fashioned checking account for your kids and (gasp!) actually communicating with them is a much better option, and perhaps the only real lesson a teen could learn from using SmartCard is that prepaid cards are something of a ripoff. The bottom line is this: while SpendSmart is not as bad as a Kardashian Kard, it’s still not a good idea.
What do you think of SpendSmart’s kiddie card? Can it help teens learn how to manage their finances? Would you give it to your child? Let us know in the comments.