Suze Orman goes prepaid

By Felix Salmon
January 9, 2012
big fan of Suze Orman, and I'm generally very mistrustful of prepaid debt cards. So what happens when Suze Orman launches her own prepaid card?

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I’m a big fan of Suze Orman, and I’m generally very mistrustful of prepaid debt cards. So what happens when Suze Orman launches her own prepaid card?

The answer, in a nutshell: it’s the best prepaid card out there. Its fees are clear, and refreshingly absent a lot of the time: no fees to buy anything, no fee to check your balance online or over the phone, no fee to transfer money to another card, no fee to make electronic bill payments, not even a fee to close your account and get a check for the balance. I also like the way that it will email or text you every time you use the card.

So if you have some other prepaid debit card, close it, and get this one instead. It’s clearly better.

Of course, there are questions associated with this product, too. Ron Lieber is worried about Orman’s journalistic integrity, on the grounds that she has a weekly show on CNBC: “if I tried to introduce my own card,” he writes, “the ethics editor would laugh me out of the New York Times building”. I’m not particularly bothered by this, although I am a little bit uncomfortable about her longstanding move into financial products more generally, which long predates the Approved Card. For instance, Suze Orman’s FICO® Kit Platinum will cost you $49.95 — a much worse deal than the Approved Card.

And Orman’s including something vaguely similar in the Approved Card: sign up for one of these cards, and you’ll get unlimited access to your TransUnion credit report, along with your TransUnion credit score. I don’t like the way that Orman sells this as an “opportunity to save yourself $143.40″ — this is a so-called “fako” score, rather than your FICO score, and you’d have to be an idiot to pay $11.95 to get it. Especially since exactly the same service can be found for free at CreditKarma. It seems that TransUnion is making a determined push into biz-dev deals which give consumers its scores for free; that’s fine, I guess, but I’m not going to get particularly excited about it.

There are two possible problems I see with the Approved Card, both of them surmountable. The first is that as far as I can tell, it isn’t actually sold anywhere; Orman desperately needs to get some retail presence for this thing, since that’s the way the overwhelming majority of prepaid cards are sold. And the second is the Achilles’ heel of most financial services, which is the quality of customer support. When people complain about their banks or their prepaid cards, the complaints nearly always come after a dreadful experience on hold with unsympathetic and unhelpful call-center operatives. If Orman can fix that, she’ll deserve an enormous amount of praise.

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