Best Prepaid Cards – UK Providers Compared
Whether you want to travel abroad with a limit, help your children learn about finance safely, or enable employees to use company funds within limits, we’ve compared the best prepaid credit and debit cards on the market.
The Facts: Prepaid Cards at a Glance
- There is no such thing as a “prepaid credit card”, because by definition if you have prepaid, then you haven’t received any credit.
- All prepaid cards act like debit cards, in that they work from an amount on your account.
- Unlike debit cards however they do not have any bank accounts attached.
- You can use a prepaid card wherever you could use a normal credit or debit card.
- Most prepaid cards do not allow for direct debits.
- Some prepaid debit cards will charge you extra if you withdraw from a Cash Machine / ATM.
- If used for traveling you should choose a travel specific card.
- All cards allow for online top ups and transaction monitoring.
Compare the Best Prepaid Cards for your situation
We’ve analysed the latest offers on prepaid cards online to sort out the best from the rest. We compared factors such as annual fees, transaction fees, bank transfer fees, cash withdrawal fees, speed of approval, and currency availability.
Best for: UK Personal Use (Online + Card)
If you want to use a prepaid card within the United Kingdom for personal use (both offline and online), then this is your best option.
Best for: Young Adult Cards
If you want to give your child a card, but monitor and restrict spending, then here are your best options.
Best for: Travel
If you’re off on your next adventure (or your child is) then here are the best choices for a prepaid travel card. For currencies including the America USD, Pounds, Euros, and others.
Best for: Temporary
If you want to be able to renew your prepaid cards to create what’s called a “burner” card, then here are your best options. These are often used for trials, or for one off transactions.
What is a prepaid card?
A prepaid card works like a normal banking card (credit or debit) but it must be topped up manually before you can use it.
They are more similar to debit cards than credit cards, as when you complete a transaction the amount is debited from the funds available on your prepaid card.
There are no bank accounts to prepaid cards however, so you can’t earn interest on the money in there, and on most you won’t be able to use direct debits.
No prepaid credit card exists, as by definition a credit card provides you with credit, and by prepaying you have essentially got the opposite.
How do prepaid cards work?
The process of getting a prepaid card works like this:
- Apply online for the card (some proof of address may be required).
- Pay initial fees (if any).
- Top up your card with money (usually via a bank transfer, sometimes at the Post Office or other “zones”).
- Use your card online immediately, or wait for delivery of your physical card.
- If requiring cash, use at a cash machine (some fees may apply).
What can I use a prepaid card for?
You can use your prepaid card wherever you would normally be able to use your debit or credit card.
This may include using your prepaid card for:
- Travel – helping to limit spending, fraud, and transfer between currencies.
- Young adults – helping to educate on money and provide freedom with supervision.
- Online shopping – if you’re worried about a website for fraud, you can limit your vulnerability.
- Online trials – if you have no intention of purchasing the full version of an online product, a prepaid card will protect you from forgetting the deadline of renewal.
- Debt control – if you have a tendency to overspend, these cards help to limit that.
- Students – using a prepaid card can be a great way to allow your children to enjoy University without going over the top.
- If you have bad credit – when normal banks and credit cards refuse you, you can use prepaid cards.
- EXPAT – if you’re living and working abroad, bank accounts can be difficult to setup, so prepaid cards offer a quick outlet.
Do prepaid cards need a credit check?
No you don’t need to undergo a credit check in order to get a prepaid card.
You may be screened for fraud prevention and money laundering purposes, but these actions should not leave a mark on your credit file in the way a loan or credit card application would.
Pros and Cons of a Prepaid Card
There are various pros and cons to owning and using a prepaid card, which we explore below.
Pros of a Prepaid Card
Some of the benefits of a prepaid card include:
- Debt control (see MAS for help) – it stops you going overdrawn and incurring interest charges.
- Convenience – it’s easy to forget about online trials, and so a prepaid card allows you to sign up without worrying about taking out the full product.
- Currency – they offer free currency conversions in some situations for when you’re abroad.
- Hiding transactions – if you are looking to hide transactions from a spouse or family member who checks your statements, a prepaid, temporary or virtual card could be what you need.
Cons of a Prepaid Card
Like everything, there are also cons to owning a reloadable card:
- You may have to pay to receive a physical card from £5-£10).
- Some charge transaction or top-up fees.
- Some have monthly or annual fees for the privilege.
- Some charge for transferring away from the card.
- You may not be able to do direct debits, which can limit your freedom.
How much do Prepaid Cards Cost?
Some prepaid cards are free, 100% completely free no matter what you do.
However others will charge you, and so it’s always important to check the terms before you apply.
The key here is to know ahead of time what you’re going to be using your prepaid card for, and to look for a card that has little to no fees in that area. This will open your options, as some cards have fees for one area, but not others, which could make them a better deal for you (particularly if they offer some kind of incentive).
Can I go overdrawn on a Prepaid Card?
No you cannot go overdrawn on a prepaid card, as by definition you can only spend what you have already prepaid. These electronic cash cards do not offer credit, however if you’re looking for credit cards then you can find out more about the best ones here: 0% interest loans & cards.
Can I get more than one Prepaid Card?
Yes you can apply for as many prepaid cards as you like and will get accepted for. As there is no real risk involved you aren’t restrained in the same way as you are from loans or credit cards. In many instances you will be able to create virtual, disposable or “burner” cards, where you can access new ones online and delete the old ones, as and when you need to.
What is the minimum age for a Prepaid Card?
The typical minimum age for applying for a prepaid card is 18, however younger adults can use a prepaid card if they have signed up for it with their parents.
This can allow for parents to provide some financial freedom to their children with adult supervision on how the money is spent, and limiting the damage done if it gets out of hand.
Is my Prepaid Card Protected? Section 75?
Prepaid cards are not covered by section 75, as this is reserved only for credit card transactions.
You are protected however, as the “Chargeback scheme” allows you to claim the full amount of money back for purchases that fall under the following categories:
- The company you purchased from goes bust.
- Your purchase did not arrive.
- Your purchase is not as described / unfit for purpose.
- You have been charged over the agreed amount, or multiple times.
- You are the victim of card fraud.
Unlike section 75, you can receive your full amount of money back (section 74 only covers you up to £30,000).
Which Prepaid Card is best for Travel?
The best prepaid travel card is one that have the best currency conversion rates, whilst also allowing you to access cash for a low / no extra fee. A good one would also offer you the convenience of monitoring and converting currency on your phone application, whilst also allowing for currency conversion when out of mobile signal range.
How to reload a prepaid card online?
To reload a prepaid card online:
- Login to your prepaid card online area.
- Use the top-up instructions (vary per provider).
- If they use a bank transfer, login to your online banking and make a payment using the account number and sort code they provide.
- If they use a payment card, add your card details into the online account top-up section.
You should see a balance on your account shortly, however it can take up to 24 hours for the money to be transferred, and may be slower on the weekends.
Alternatives to Prepaid Cards Compared
Here we go over your other options, for when prepaid cards may or may not be your best option.
Prepaid Card vs Debit Card
A prepaid card and a debit card are similar in nature. The main difference between them is the ability to go overdrawn on a debit card. If you’re worried about yourself overspending, then a prepaid card is better. However if you want to earn interest and use direct debit facilities, then a debit card would be a better option. It’s also easier to get cash out of the bank with a debit card.
Prepaid Card vs Bank Account
Having a bank account and a cash card offers you more flexibility with direct debits and cash withdrawals. However like mentioned above if you’re worried about overspending, either get an agreed overdraft or choose a prepaid card.
A prepaid card makes it easier for parents to monitor children’s spending than a bank account, because the account would be in the child’s name, and the prepaid card can be monitored online from anywhere.
Prepaid Card vs Travelers Cheques
A travelers cheque is a great way to take money with you abroad, and would be a good way to go if you’re worried about a card being accepted. However a card usually offers the best conversion rates, and with a certain cash limit for many people a contactless, electronic, travel money card would be the best option.
Prepaid Card vs Cash
Cash is great, everyone has used cash for centuries, however it’s easily lost and stolen. Cash offers you no security at all, whereas a card uses a pin to verify the owner of the money is the only person who can access it. Particularly when you’re away from home in a foreign country, having an extra level of security can provide that bit more safety, so we advise to minimise the cash you carry.
Prepaid Card vs Gift Card
There is a tradition, particularly in the United Kingdom, of providing gift cards as birthday and Christmas celebrations, but have you ever considered a prepaid card instead?
The big downside of a gift card is that it restricts the person to spending at the exact place you bought the gift card, whereas a prepaid card can give them the flexibility of spending the money anywhere.
Prepaid Cards in the News
The whole area of prepaid cards has caused great upset in many industries, as it disrupts the previous financial stronghold that large banks and travel agents had over things like currency conversions.
Paypal Moving Into PrePaid Card Space
Paypal is a big player in online payment processing, with it basically owning a large portion of the online transactions. Now the company is looking to get into prepaid cards (Paypal Prepaid), with the aim to satisfy consumers who do not have bank accounts, but still want to be secured from financial payments. It goes along with their idea of making online transactions safer and more accessible.
Samsung have announced that they will be incorporating Paypal into their Samsung Pay service.
EU Parliament Getting Tough On Prepaid Cards and Crypto
On the 22nd April 2018, the MEP’s voted with a majority of 574 to just 13 votes (60 abstained) to impose tougher regulation on cryptocurrencies. This is an effort to reduce the use of them in money laundering and other crimes, as they are by definition very difficult if not impossible to trace.
The aim will be to prevent companies from being “letterboxes”, and allow for more transparency for companies to see the owners of prepaid debit cards, and protect those who whistleblow about money laundering.