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The Google Wallet Prepaid Card. Is It a Good Deal?

Recently, Google launched the Google Wallet Card, a new, physical prepaid card you can use in addition to using your smart phone to pay for purchases via the Google Wallet service. Readers of this blog know that I've discussed prepaid cards at length in this blog.

So, the appropriate question: is the Google Wallet Card a good deal?

To answer this, first I read the card announcement at the Google Commerce blog. The Google Wallet Card is structured like any other prepaid card. You add money to it, and then use the available balance on your card to make purchases in retail stores and/or to withdraw cash at ATM machines. You must have a Google Wallet account, first. The blog post announcement said that the Google Wallet Card can be used at "millions of MasterCard(R) locations." That seems partly true. Keep reading.

Google Wallet Card users also need the Google Wallet app running on their smart phone. The app provides notifications about purchases with the Card, and allows Card users to check their available card balances, add money to their Wallet/Card, and perform related tasks. Right now, Google Wallet users can order the Google Wallet Card for free.

Then, I visited the Google Wallet Card FAQ page, which is buried within the Google Wallet website. The page clearly stated that the Google Wallet Card can only be used within the United States. So, the announcement in the Google Commerce blog is a little misleading, and not quite accurate.

Also, there are transaction limits with the Google Wallet Card:

  • The maximum you can spend is your Google Wallet balance or $5,000.00 per 24 hours
  • The maximum you can withdraw from an ATM machine is $300.00 per 24 hours

There seem to be fewer fees with the Google Wallet Card. Google does not charge the following fees to Google Wallet Card users:

  • Retail store purchases with the Google Wallet Card
  • An annual or a monthly fee
  • A card activation fee
  • Cash withdrawals at ATM machines
  • Checking balances at ATM machines

There are fees if you add money from a debit/credit card, but no no fees if you add money from a checking account. So, how you use the Card matters. I found it extremely helpful to read the page listing fees for both the Google Wallet and the Google Wallet Card. The fee-listing page is a site page Card users will probably want to refer to frequently, since fees can change.

More importantly, this page provides the warnings that the bank or ATM network (e.g., NYCE, Cirrus, Plus, etc.) may charge fees for cash withdrawals and checking balances at ATM mchines. The fee-listing page doesn't list the specific fees banks or ATM networks might charge. It just gives the general warning.

I found this general warning a disappointment. It would be more helpful if the fee-listing page included these additional fees, so Google Wallet Card users would know in advance what fees they will likely encounter at ATM machines.

At the Google Wallet Card FAQ page, I looked for links to the fee schedule or Card agreement. I've learned that these documents specify all relevant details. I did not see links prominently in the Google Wallet Card FAQ page. This was a disappointment. Users should not have to hunt for these links, as I did.

The page footer at the Google Wallet site contains a link to the Google Wallet Terms of Service agreement. This agreement contains important information about the Google Wallet Card:

"6.5 Google Wallet Card - (a) Issuance of the Google Wallet Card. GPC may arrange for Bancorp to provide you with access to a MasterCard branded physical debit payment card, the Google Wallet Card. By using the Google Wallet Card, you also agree to the Google Wallet Card Terms of Use, which may be updated from time to time. For avoidance of doubt, the Google Wallet Card Terms of Use are between you and Bancorp, not Google or GPC..."

So, the Terms of Servce identifies the bank Google Wallet Card users do business with. And, it confirms that the site does contain an agreement (or contract) specifically for Google Wallet Card users. You just have to hunt a little to find it. That agreement/contract is between the Card user and Bancorp. The Google Wallet Card Terms of Use contains some important terms, including but not limited to:

"If you use your [Google Wallet Card] at an automated fuel dispenser (“pay at the pump”), the merchant may preauthorize the transaction amount up to $100.00 or more. If your Card is declined, even though you have sufficient funds available, pay for your purchase inside with the cashier. If you use your Card at a restaurant, a hotel, for a car rental purchase, or for similar purchases, the merchant may preauthorize the transaction amount for the purchase amount plus up to 20% or more to ensure there are sufficient funds available to cover tips or incidental expenses incurred. Any preauthorization amount will place a “hold” on your available funds until the merchant sends us the final payment amount of your purchase. Once the final payment amount is received, the preauthorization amount on hold will be removed. It may take up to seven (7) days for the hold to be removed. During the hold period, you will not have access to the preauthorized amount."

For security reasons, I almost never use a debit/credit/prepaid card at gas station pumps becasue it is extremely easy for identity theives to tamper with gas station pumps. When gas stations are closed, the pumps are usually unattended and left out in the open where anyone can access them.

So, is the Google Wallet Card a good deal? Only you can decide for yourself as you know your financial situation best. The above transaction limits may or may not fit with your lifestyle and financial needs. Your current debit- or prepaid card may offer fewer or no fees for ATM machine usage. Hopefully, I have highlighted the issues and terms to consider to make an informed decision.

The Google Wallet Card is not for me because I avoid using any prepaid cards due to many fees and fewer consumer protections. My current mix of credit cards and a debit card with my bank fulfill my banking needs.

If you already use Google Wallet, then the Google Wallet card may be a useful option at retail stores that don't accept the smart phone payment method. CNN Money said this about why Google introduced a prepaid card:

"[Google Wallet] hasn't really taken off, however -- iPhones haven't adopted the technology necessary to use the in-store payment feature, and many retailers don't have the appropriate point-of-sale equipment to process the transactions."

What's your opinion of the Google Wallet prepaid card?


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