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How to Get a Prepaid Debit Card in a Store

If we learned anything from the financial melt-down of the past few years, its that an over-abundance of credit can lead to problems. Cash is king, and living within your means is cool. But without a credit card, how do you participate in a world where plastic is more common than paper? Simple. Debit cards are a great alternative to credit cards for people who want to live within their means and still be able to shop online, rent cars, take trips, and do the other retail stuff we know and love (and have come to expect).

Getting a debit card is becoming easier than ever.

A debit card differs from a credit card in that it a debit card is directly tied to a bank or deposit account and the amount of money that can be spent using a debit card is limited to the amount of money in the bank account itself. When a debit card is used at a retail merchant, the transaction "debits" or withdraws the amount owed from bank or deposit account associated with the card. Typically, the transaction happens rapidly and the funds are deducted that same day. Debit cards can also be used at ATMs to get cash.

Ever notice those cards at the checkout counter of Wal-Mart, CVS, or a million other stores? Many of them have the Visa or MasterCard logo on them. Those are prepaid debit cards or gift cards. Check the packaging and if it says the card is "reloadable", it is a debit card that you can load with money at the checkout counter (and then reload in the future when you need to use the card again).

To buy one of these cards, simply take the card package to the cashier and the cashier the amount of cash you want to load on the card. You can then use the card for many types of transactions (and if you register the card, you can use it at ATMs, and also reload the card when your funds run out).

When you buy a debit card at a store, you are given a temporary card that does not have your name embossed on it. If you want a personalized debit card, you'll need to take the temporary debit card home with you, and register the card online (or by phone). When you do the registration process, you'll be asked to provide information identifying yourself (often, you'll need to provide either your Social Security Number, Matricular or other consular identification). This identification is required so the bank complies with Federal "know your customer" laws. If you don't need a personalized or embossed card, you can use the temporary prepaid card to make purchases until the funds are used, and then you will need to purchase a new card if you want to reload or add more funds.

If you want to use the prepaid card repeatedly and reload it, register the card and get an embossed or personalized card. It will be mailed to you, and you can then use the card just like a bank account (that's why these cards are often referred to as bank account substitutes).

When you have used up all the funds on your debit card, you can reload it (if its a reloadable card) or simply throw it away (if it's personalized, make sure to cut it up). One of the more popular brands of debit cards sold at retail locations is are the Green Dot MasterCard and Green Dot Visa (sold at participating retailers including: Walmart, Walgreens, CVS/pharmacy, Rite Aid, Kmart, Kroger and Meijer).