Should you get a prepaid card?
Prepaid cards offer a safe, convenient way to pay for things, 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. Unlike a debit or credit card, it’s not linked to a bank account.
Once you’ve topped it up however, you can use your card in the same way you would spend with a debit or credit card.
You can use prepaid cards to:
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.
What’s the difference between a prepaid card and a debit card?
The main difference is that a debit card is linked to a current account, and a prepaid card is not.
How do prepaid cards work?
Once you’ve received your prepaid card, you can add money to it 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.
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
Top up limits
How much money you can add to your card varies a lot, depending on the card provider. Typically:
- The card provider will set a maximum limit per year and a cap on single top-ups
- 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.
Checking your balance
The simplest way to check your balance is via your card issuer’s linked smartphone app, where you can 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.
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:
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.
- Revolut in Ireland Revolut is recognised as an online bank that allows you transfer, spend and withdraw money easily via its mobile app. You can spend abroad with no foreign exchange fees in over 130 currencies.
- 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 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.
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?
Revolut was granted a full banking license by the European Central Bank (ECB) in December 2021.
It previously operated here as an “Electronic Money Institution” but since March 2022, used its Lithuanian banking licence to offer fuller banking services. Up €100,000 of Irish customer’s funds are now covered by the Lithuanian Banking Guarantee.
In January 2023, Revolut announced they would also issue customers here Irish IBANs, after opening an Irish branch of their EU bank.