AFR in the News: The Dangers of Chicago’s “Transidebit” Card

In a March 22 editorial, the Chicago Tribune sounds the alarm against “a transit pass that doubles as a reloadable debit card.”

Using the Chicago Transit Authority’s new prepaid MasterCard account, riders can “make retail purchases with the same card they use to hop aboard the trains and buses…,” the editorial says. “They can have their paychecks deposited directly to that account, get cash back with purchases and use it at ATMs.

But, after combing through the “1,000-page contract between the CTA and its private-sector partners,” the Tribune “found some eye-opening fees.” Such as $2.95 for “reloading your account online using a credit card.” $2 for “operator assisted telephone inquiry.” $10 an hour for the company’s time spent on “account research” in response. And $6 “if you stop using the card and want to cash in your unused balance.”

“The market for prepaid cards is booming, the Tribune observes, noting that they largely fall outside the scope of the 2009 credit card reform legislation. The editorial goes on to quote an AFR paper describing prepaid cards as “part of a shadowy alternative banking system that lacks full consumer protections.”

And prepaid cards, the editorial says, again quoting AFR, are “overwhelmingly marketed to and used by a variety of vulnerable groups,” including low-income consumers, people with less-than-stellar credit, students, undereducated consumers and those receiving public benefits.