Credit cards can be troublesome things. The ability to buy things without needing the funds in your account can lead to debt and all kinds of related problems. One way to avoid this scenario is to opt for a pre-paid card, one that only allows you to spend what you already have but still offers the convenience of using it online or for contactless payments in restaurants and shops. Here’s our pick of the best pre-paid cards available in the UK.
What is a pre-paid card?
As the name suggests, these are cards that allow you to pay for items and services just as you would with a debit-card. The difference is that you load money onto the pre-paid card ahead of time, then use the funds for your purchases. Once you’ve exhausted the balance on the card you won’t be able to use it again until more money is added.
You might wonder what the point of this is, but many people find it a helpful way to budget their spending. Teenagers and students are also frequent users of pre-paid cards, as they generally don’t have a regular income from jobs that would qualify them for a debit card but still need to buy things with a card when out and about or online.
Some of these allow you to put foreign currencies on the card, meaning you can travel abroad without the risk of carrying cash or incurring fees when paying with a credit or debit card.
There are also some pre-paid cards that are specifically aimed at helping people with a poor credit history to rebuild their reputation.
How do I put money on a pre-paid card?
There are usually a few different ways to load up cards. Bank transfer is the most obvious route, especially for parents of teenagers and students. Many cards can receive funds deposited at PayPoints across the UK. These are often found in local shops and newsagents, with over 28,000 outlets available at the time of writing.
Finally, you can pay online through either the card issuer’s website or through their smartphone apps. Again, for this method you’ll need an existing bank account to make the payments.
How much do they cost?
As you are using your own money, rather than borrowing the card issuer’s as you would on a credit card, there are no interest rates on pre-paid cards. This doesn’t mean they are free though, as you often have to pay a monthly administration fee and there can be small charges for ATM withdrawals or when you load money onto the card.
Are pre-paid cards accepted everywhere?
As these are backed by either Mastercard or Visa you can use them anywhere that either of those are accepted – which is pretty much every shop and online site.
If you're studying you can get preferential deals, so do read our roundup of the best student bank accounts.
Monzo is one of the most popular digital banks out there at the moment. Applying for a card costs you nothing, and you can use it abroad with no charges for card spends, and a £200 limit on taking cash out - saving you a trip to the post office. All currencies are automatically converted under the Mastercard rate.
All transactions come through on the Monzo app as soon as you make a payment. You can load up your Monzo as and when you need to for your various day-to-day spends. The card lends itself well to these, as it automatically categorises all of your spends by subjects - such as groceries, bills, coffee etc. You can even set limits for yourself each month on these individual spends, should you wish to curb your costs a bit.
Other features of the app include splitting the bill with fellow Monzo users, and creating 'pots' for rounding up spare change for a rainy day. Monzo also offers more detailed plans if you wish to switch to using them as your full-time bank, including basic savings accounts and ISAs. Find out more about Monzo bank here.
One of the most popular pre-paid cards for younger users is GoHenry. This allows parents to put funds onto their child’s card via an excellent smartphone app which also has settings for how much can be spent at any one time and limits for certain sites or shops.
The card is Visa, features contactless payments, and can be customised to feature the child’s name instead of Henry – so, for example, GoHolly rather than GoHenry.
Costs are £2.99 per month for each child. You’re allowed one free payment onto the card each month, but additional transactions are priced at £0.50. Thankfully there are no charges for cash withdrawals at ATMs or when using the card to make purchases.
If you’re looking for a pre-paid option for your children, then this is a great option. For a deeper look into the service, read out What is GoHenry? guide.
This distinctive, bright yellow card offers a decent balance of services and costs that make it attractive to those who want to keep their outgoings down. Signing up to the service costs £0.99 and there is a recurring monthly fee for the same amount.
Adding funds to your account via bank transfer or having your wages paid directly to Pockit is free, while using PayPoints has a £0.99 charge. Using your Pockit card online or in-store is free, but you’ll again be charged £0.99 for cash withdrawals in the UK and £2.25 when overseas. One thing that offsets some of these costs is that you can get up to 10 percent cashback when you use your Pockit card in certain restaurants and shops.
Pockit doesn’t conduct a credit check when you open your account, essentially acts as a current account, and has additional features aimed at helping you rebuild your credit record. LOQBOX is a feature which allows users to deposit a set amount into a virtual savings account each month which remains locked for twelve months.
Then, at the end of the year, the box is unlocked (or unLOQed) and you have access to your money once more plus an increase in your credit score. LOQBOX costs £9.99 to setup, then £0.99 per month to use, and if things get tight then you can unlock your savings early, albeit without the increased credit rating.
Revolut is one of the new ‘challenger’ banks that offer smartphone-centred accounts which include debit cards. Now, this isn’t strictly a pre-paid card, but it’s very easy to treat it as one. You don’t need to have your wages paid directly into the account, and the charges are very low.
Setting up an account is free, ATM withdrawals are also free for the first £200 per month with a 2 percent fee levied on any amounts over that and transferring money into your account also avoids any charges.
The credit checks are basic and it’s possible to open a Revolut account in a matter of minutes, directly from your smartphone. As it’s a EUR IBAN account, you’ll also be able to transfer money to other European countries, taking advantage of lower exchange rates.
Travellers will also benefit from pre-loading the Revolut card with funds that are then automatically converted into the local currencies at the lowest possible rate.
Another challenger bank is Monese, which also offers a current account replete with debit card and all without credit checks. There are three tiers to choose from, but the best for most people will be the Simple option. This has no monthly fee, allows up to £200 ATM and cash top-ups free each month with a charge of two percent thereafter, Apple & Google Pay, plus free direct debits and other recurring payments.
There are also instant free transfers between Monese users and the option to open a second account that uses a different currency (either GBP or EUR) for no additional costs. An excellent app allows you to monitor all transactions, set budgets, and you can also link your PayPal account directly to the Monese card.
A card worth checking out is the Mastercard from Cashplus that’s included in the company’s various current accounts. There are three options - Activeplus, Flexiplus, and Deluxe – each of which has different costs so you can choose the one that best meets your personal circumstances.
The Activeplus tier cost £5.95 per month, has free and unlimited UK purchases (online and in stores), and nine free standing order and transfers payment each month, with additional ones costing £0.99. Paying money into the account is free, but there is a rather stiff £2 charge when making cash withdrawals from ATMs.
Flexiplus takes a different approach, with no monthly fee but instead all payments cost £0.99 and ATM withdrawals a further £2. Finally, the Deluxe costs £9.95 per month but offers free transactions, payments, and UK cash withdrawals.
The accounts feature no credit check when you apply and also allow you to have your wages paid directly onto into the account. Accompanying Android or iOS apps make it easy to manage your finances.