Beware of Suze Orman Card!by Gerri Willis
If I had to rank pre-paid debit cards in terms of their value to consumers, they would be pretty darn low. Right up there with the PedEgg and the Flowbee. Ultimately, these cards are glorified gift cards laden with fees that find an audience because they are backed by a celebrity. Consumers love brand identity and buying a celebrity card is just another way to get closer to your favorite reality talk show star or radio talk show host. But for anybody who cares about their money, these cards are just a money waster.
And, so it is with Suze Orman’s pre-paid debit card, the Approved Card. The card is laden with fees – 20 of them – starting with a $3 a month charge for using the card. Some of the fees can be avoided, but it begs the question of why I would buy such a card if I had to spend all my time reading the fine print to make sure I avoid the trip wires? The Approved Card has more fees than the Rushcard, backed by Russell Simmons, which has 17, and the Lil Wayne prepaid Discover card which has seven. In fact, the Approved Card makes American Express look like a not-for profit institution. Amex’s pre-paid card has just one fee.
The Approved Card, though, purports to do more than just give you a place to stash your money. Orman maintains consumers’ use of the ‘Suze Card’ will be shared with one credit bureau with the hope it will eventually help you build credit. The card does this by offering free credit reports, scores and free credit monitoring. (By the way, the scores are not from the industry score standard, FICO, but from a lesser known player in the field.) Savvy consumers, though, know that these services are already available for free on the web from websites like CreditKarma.com. The government requires that your three credit reports be available for free from AnnualCreditReport.com.
And, this claim that the Approved Card is intended to be a credit-builder makes little sense on its face. Consumers aren’t evaluated for credit on the basis of how they spend their money. For example, you don’t get points for going to the pet store rather than the grocery store or the other way around. It makes no sense to use your spending history as a way to estimate your creditworthiness, unless, I guess, you’re the Kardashians. (More on the Kardashians in a moment.) The big credit reporting agencies evaluate how you handle debt. Do you pay it off quickly? Do you miss payments?
Look, by Suze’s own standards, pre-paid debit cards are a waste of money because of the fees they charge. But, to me, the problems are even bigger than that. I’ve been highly critical of the nation’s largest banks. But that doesn’t mean I want consumers to leave the banking system. Having a relationship with a banker and being inside “the system” helps establish you as a viable candidate for loans. What’s more, you can still find banks offering free checking accounts. Suggesting that people remove themselves from the banking system and operate on its periphery doesn’t do anyone any favors. The old Suze knows that. I’m not sure who this new Suze is. And, I am tempted to ask just how much money she is making on this debit card scheme. As my friend Chuck Jaffe wrote recently, “The problem with Suze is that you don’t know when the advice ends and the advertising begins.” Suffice it to say that maybe what we know now is that the advertising never stopped.
By the way, we’ve asked Suze and the Approved Card team to come on the show and talk about the card and why they believe it’s a positive for consumers. That was back on Jan. 12. Since then, we’ve talked to several personal finance experts who agree the card is of little benefit to consumers. Here’s what Suze’s people had to say to our request for an appearance, “[You’ve done three segments] without any input from Suze or The Approved Card team. At this point we will just leave it there and respectfully decline your offer to appear.”
Oh, and about the Kardashians: Suze slammed the reality stars’ pre-paid debit card saying it ‘swindled’ teens with ‘outrageous fees’ and that its marketing was misleading. The Kardashians, ultimately, pulled the card. Suze should do the same.