Plastic with Parental Controls
Two years ago, MasterCard introduced a Hello Kitty debit card targeted at girls ages 10 to 14.
Now, it's offering the Allow Card, "a Prepaid MasterCard designed for Kids ... and the parents who love them!"
So the Web site tells us.
The card's target audience, by the way, are kids as young as 10, and as old as 19.
According to the press release that came our way yesterday, it can do wonders such as help younguns "get a grasp of their allowance and finances, establish a better sense of trust with their parents and learn valuable life lessons, while still giving them financial independence."
You would have thought it was a paper route.
Let's run down the features -- and the fees.
For starters, parents have to sign up for the card. Once that happens, the kids can register so they can enter MyAllowLife, where they supposedly receive virtual lessons in financial responsibility. (I wouldn't know. I couldn't get in without a card. Registering, by the way, includes offering up address, date of birth, and phone number. When asked if the company was abiding by federal rules on collecting personal information from kids under age 13, spokeswoman Ann Noder replied they can't register until their parents get them a card.)
Probably the biggest draw for moms and dads: the 35 parental controls.
(Well, really, it's more like a dozen. Not sure why 35 seemed like a magic number but MasterCard seems to have gone for the most impressive one it could. Many of the controls are standard issue such as "replace lost of stolen card.")
Among the less than standard controls: Parents can dole out money daily, weekly or monthly. They can keep their children from spending money at certain merchants or from withdrawing money. And, of course, they can see what their kids spend their money on.
As for the fees:
Despite the Web site's prominent claim that "YOU WON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT OVERDRAFT FEES, INTEREST FEES, LATE FEES," there are fees.
(One quick complaint: To learn about the fees, you have to go to the cardholder agreement, the link for which I found after clicking on the not-so-prominent "legal" link at the bottom of the screen. Upon opening the agreement, I found the lettering so tiny I had to print it out and blow it up on a copy machine to read it.)
* A one-time activation fee of $20.
* A monthly maintenance fee of $3.50
* An ATM withdrawal surcharge of $1.50
* A 50 cent fee to talk to an automated customer service agent
* A $4.95 flat fee, if you want to talk to a human being.
* A bill pay fee of $1.
* A $15 fee if you want a paper statement
* Escalating fees depending on how much money you "load" on the card from a credit card. They start at $2.50 for amounts between $20 and $100 and go up to $50 for amounts between $1,501 and $2,500.
* If you or your child overspends, you're liable for the "shortage" and "any applicable shortage fees." Noder didn't respond to a question about what the difference is between shortage fees and overdraft fees.
A colleague of mine signed up for a Visa Buxx prepaid debit card for her teenage daughter. She and her husband are fans of the card, mainly because they can keep an eye on what their daughter spends money on -- most of the time. They can't always count on what the statement tells them because their daughter once in a while charges items for friends in exchange for cash.
Plastic -- educational for everyone.
If you're not sure whether your kid is ready for a credit card, you can have them take this Bankrate.com quiz.
Which do you prefer for your kids? Cash or credit?
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