Should you get a prepaid card?
Prepaid cards offer a safe, convenient way to pay and give you control over your finances, but they can also come with hidden costs. Here’s everything you need to know about prepaid cards for spending at home and abroad.
What are prepaid cards?
It’s a type of payment card that you pre-load with money. You then use your prepaid card in the same way you would spend with a debit or credit card.
You can use prepaid cards to:
- Shop on the high street
- Buy goods and services online
- Pay in pubs and restaurants
- Spend abroad
- Withdraw cash from an ATM
- Pay your bills
Prepaid cards are ideal if you don’t have a current account and need a secure way to spend online. They’re also popular for spending abroad, budgeting and to help children and teenagers manage their money.
All prepaid card transactions in Ireland are processed by Mastercard so you can use your card anywhere you see the Mastercard Acceptance Mark.
How do prepaid cards work?
Once you have received your prepaid card, you can add money onto your card and use it as you would a debit or credit card. You are in control of when and how you spend your money, for example:
If you add €500 to your card, you can use it to shop online, at a restaurant or to pay a utility bill at your own leisure. You can add more money to your card at any time too.
How do you put money on a prepaid card?
You can add money to your card in several ways:
- With cash at one of 2,000 Payzone points across Ireland
- By transferring money directly from your bank account
- With your debit card on your prepaid card issuer website
How much can you load on to a prepaid card?
That depends on the card provider and it varies considerably between providers.
Typically, the card provider will set a maximum limit per year and a cap on single top-ups but you can normally increase your limit over time or pay extra for greater top-up amounts.
Top up limits may also depend on whether they are cash deposits, bank transfers or card transactions.
How do you check the balance on a prepaid card?
The simplest way to check your balance is via your card issuer’s linked smartphone app.
This will be available to download via your provider’s website or the Google Play and App Store and will let you manage your prepaid card, view transactions, check your balance and top up.
You can usually also check your balance on:
- your card issuer’s website
- at an ATM
- by text.
How much do prepaid cards cost?
Prepaid card costs can be complex and card issuers have different fees and charges, so it’s worth shopping around to find the one that works out cheapest for you.
Here’s are some of the different charges you may encounter:
- One-off/ Start-up fee
- Delivery charges
- Annual or monthly fees
- Top up charges
- Bank charges
- Foreign transactions
- Non-usage fees
- Stamp duty
Where can you get a prepaid card?
There are lots of different prepaid card issuers in Ireland; new digital providers are popping up all the time but not all of them are licensed by the Central Bank of Ireland.
Here’s a look at the main providers in Ireland and what they offer:
|Name of card issuer||What’s on offer?||Best for…|
|Bunq||A prepaid credit Mastercard - it has some benefits of a credit card, but you have to preload it||Spending abroad|
|Cheetah money||App-based current account with prepaid Mastercard||Payments worldwide, Businesses|
|Neteller||A Prepaid Mastercard (plastic & virtual)||Transaction rewards|
|Makes Cents||Prepaid card for 8 to 18 year olds||Children and teenagers learning about money management|
|Revolut||App based banking with a prepaid Mastercard||Spending abroad, Single use cards|
|Skrill||Online wallet with prepaid Mastercard||Buying cryptocurrency, Transaction rewards|
|Swirl||A Prepaid Mastercard or Travel Cash Card||Easy availability. Simple to buy, load & use worldwide|
|3Money||Prepaid Mastercard & 3Money Wallet from Three||Shopping, travel & cash withdrawals|
Some prepaid card issuers also offer extra financial services, like a current account, whilst others design their cards for specific purposes like currency cards for spending abroad or for children and teens to manage pocket money.
How do you apply for a prepaid card?
Some providers also offer the choice of a ‘virtual card’ that you use with your smartphone.
Prepaid card pros and cons
The greatest advantage of a prepaid card is the freedom and control it gives you over your spending. You don’t need to apply for a current account and you can even get a prepaid card with bad credit.
Here are the main pros and cons of getting a prepaid card.
- No credit check required
- No bank account required
- Manage your money easily
- Control with your smart phone
- Protects from theft and fraud
- Convenient and simple
- Fees and charges can become costly
- Limits on top up and spending
- May not work for certain transactions
- No credit or overdraft facility
Prepaid travel cards
Prepaid travel cards are a good alternative to carrying around local currency or using your debit or credit card abroad. You lock in the rate before you travel, so there are no surprise transaction fees on your account when you return from holiday.
What are the benefits of using a prepaid travel card?
Prepaid travel cards are available online and in branch from An Post. Here’s some of the benefits of using a prepaid travel card for holiday spending.
- Use anywhere that accepts Mastercard or Visa payments including hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues and ATMs.
- Choose your currency and lock in an exchange rate before you travel
- Zero liability protects you from fraud and unauthorised transactions
- Emergency assistance if your card is lost or stolen
- Check your balance, transaction history and info online or by phone
- Can help you stay within your budget on holiday
- A simple and safe way to spend abroad
If you’d like to find out more about options when spending abroad, visit our guide Travel money & the best ways to spend abroad.
Should you get a prepaid card?
There are some clear advantages and disadvantages to prepaid cards and there are times when a prepaid card can be the best option for spending at home or abroad.
When you’re choosing your card, consider the following:
- Opt for a card scheme that’s widely accepted, for example, Visa and Mastercard.
- If you want a card to use on holiday, choose a prepaid card that’s specially designed for travel and foreign transactions.
- Shop around and compare transaction fees for the methods of payment you’re most likely to use.
- Check the cost of ATM withdrawals and maximum daily amounts; avoid withdrawing cash if possible.
- Check top-up charges and maximum loading amounts and find the cheapest way of topping up.
Alternatives to prepaid cards
There are several digital finance companies in Ireland that offer a range of banking services:
- N26 is a fully regulated digital bank. You get a free virtual debit Mastercard, and can make bank transfers and manage your money via the app. You can even connect Google or Apple Pay and use your smartphone in any location that accepts contactless payments.
- Wise formerly Transferwise, is a ‘borderless account’ that makes international money transfer cheap, fair and simple. You can use your prepaid Wise Mastercard in Ireland and abroad without hidden fees and spend in multiple currencies, plus much more.
Virtual Debit Card with Online Bank Account
Open a free N26 online bank account & get a virtual Mastercard debit card to use in store & online, accepted worldwide. T&Cs apply.
Prepaid cards FAQs
Can I get a prepaid card with bad credit?
Yes, you can. You don’t need to be credit checked for a prepaid card as you would to apply for a current account or credit card.
You may still have to undergo identity and age checks though.
Can I use a prepaid card for shopping on Amazon?
Yes, you can use a prepaid card for Amazon and other online shops.
Some people prefer to only use prepaid cards for online shopping because there is a lower chance of fraud occurring and it protects their credit card and current account from online scammers.
Do I have to be 18 to get a prepaid card in Ireland?
No, there are prepaid cards that are designed especially for children and teens. The application will need parental consent if you’re under 18 years of age.
The Makes Cents prepaid card for 8-18 year olds allows parents to manage and monitor their children’s expenses via an app. Merchants unsuitable for any person under the age of 18 will automatically be blocked.
For most standard prepaid cards you’ll need to be over 18 years of age.
Is my money safe on a prepaid card?
Yes, your money is safe on a prepaid card. If your card is stolen or lost, you can ‘freeze’ the card via the app to prevent it from being used.
Some card issuers also provide consumer protection, which means if you buy faulty goods or your card is used fraudulently, you can reclaim the cost.
On balance, prepaid cards are safer than carrying around large amounts of cash and more secure than using a card linked to your bank account when shopping online.
Is Revolut a licensed bank in Ireland?
No, Revolut is not a licenced bank in Ireland, it is an “Electronic Money Institution” based in the UK.
Revolut recently moved all their Irish customer’s accounts from the UK to Lithuania due to Brexit so money in Revolut is not covered by any banking guarantee. They hope to be granted an e-money licence by the Central Bank of Ireland soon.
What's the difference between a prepaid card and a debit card?
A debit card enables you to spend any available money in your bank account, whereas a prepaid card will only let you spend money that has been added to the card.
A debit card is linked to your current account, whereas you can get a prepaid card without a bank account or credit check.