Keep Prepaid Debit & Phone Cards in Your Wallet

A tight budget makes it hard to plan for emergencies or to put away a little mad money.

How much would having $100 in your reserve soften the landing in a lean month? How about extra airtime when you’re over your limit on your mobile plan?

Loads. It helps loads.

That’s more than enough reason to invest in pre-paid debit and phone cards.

What Is a Pre-Paid Debit Card?

Offered by Visa, Mastercard and other major credit card companies, pre-paid debit cards look like regular credit cards. Pre-paid debit cards let you load a set amount of money onto the card at the reseller’s cash register. Then you use it just as you would a credit card, up to the cash limit you loaded onto the card.

The advantages are obvious. No checks and ID to fumble with at the cash register, and usually no credit slips to sign. Plus you’re not racking up any interest. The funds on the card spend just like cash.

Unlike credit and debit cards that come from a bank, there’s no application or credit check, and you can pay for your pre-paid card with cash.

Where to Find Pre-Paid Debit Cards

That’s the easy part. Many major retail chains like Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, Dollar General and Family Dollar offer gift card “malls” and several options for pre-paid debit cards.

There are also several versions available online, but users may not find them as convenient as having the physical card in hand.

What to Look for in a Pre-Paid Debit Card

First, look for the cards that don’t charge an activation fee. Usually you can duck such fees if you load the advertised minimum amount onto the card, usually in increments of $50.

Next you want a card that’s refillable. Until you’re used to keeping funds in reserve, the inconvenience of buying new cards may keep you from forming a very good habit. Once you’re used to keeping a card, remember to replace it every few months so that your account number changes. This helps keep your stash more secure.

Make sure that your card makes it easy to check your balance. Many print your balance on each receipt, while others make it easy to check your balance and reload online.

What Is a Pre-Paid Phone Card?

Unlike airtime cards for your specific phone or mobile provider, pre-paid phone cards vend minutes that you can use from a payphone or other wired phones.

Just dial the 800 number on the back, input the account number printed on the card and dial a phone number to place a call. To make multiple calls at once, follow the instructions on the card.

Stick with a major provider like AT&T, and be sure the card states in writing that your minutes don’t expire in less time than about a year. Shop around for a good price. You should find several options at around three-cents-a-minute.

Remember that this kind of pre-paid phone card doesn’t add airtime to your phone or tab. However, it does mean that you can make a phone call in an emergency.

Learn how to earn prepaid rewards on