Occupy Wall Street's Debit Card: Selling Out or a Smart Move?

Occupy Money Cooperative
In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement took the financial industry to task for greed and corruption. Yet two years later, an offshoot from the movement is now looking to use one of the financial industry's favorite tools as a way of keeping up its fight.

The Occupy Money Cooperative recently started raising money with the goal of releasing an Occupy-branded debit card. As you'd expect, the move has stirred some controversy. Proponents argue that the Occupy Card will give millions of Americans without banking relationships access to useful financial services, eliminating inequities that favor the wealthy. Critics point to the fact that Visa (V) will profit from the Occupy Card, too.

The bigger question, though, is whether the Occupy Card really breaks ground in the debit-card arena. A look at the Occupy Card's fees and features reveal it has its good and bad points.

What the Occupy Card Costs

In an industry in which prepaid debit cards often come with excessive fees built in, the Occupy Card does have several features that make it look more attractive than the usual fare. The Cooperative plans to offer the cards to users free of charge, with only a nominal fee for those who want additional cards.

There will also be low-cost options for accessing money. Users will be able to add funds to their cards through direct deposit of paychecks or other payments with no fees. To get access to cash, the Occupy Card will allow users to get cash back on store purchases of up to $60 each day, with as many as 15 withdrawals allowed per month. And of course, the card will function as a regular debit card, usable for purchases at any stores that accept Visa debit cards.

The card also has features to prevent some of the more annoying fees that helped inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement in the first place. The card won't charge fees if a merchant declines the card for having a lack of funds, and there's also no negative-balance fee or inactivity fee imposed.
Still, the Occupy Card isn't entirely fee-free.

Users will pay a monthly charge of 99 cents unless they qualify as a no-monthly charge member, which requires a minimum of five direct deposit transactions or various combinations of direct deposits and other deposits from funding sources.

In addition, some of the funding methods the Occupy Card accepts have their own fees, such as MoneyPaks and Swipe Reload options at stores like Walmart (WMT), CVS (CVS), and 7-Eleven. Getting cash from an ATM costs $1.95, which goes to network and third-party fees, and the card imposes a $2 fee if an ATM declines a withdrawal request.

Other features, such as online check service and live customer service assistance, also involve modest fees.

How Does the Occupy Card Measure Up to the Big Banks' Plastic?

Overall, the Occupy Card's fees are relatively low and attractive to prepaid debit-card users, especially in comparison to some of the higher-fee alternatives available.

The infamous Kardashian Kard from 2010 charged $100 annually just to obtain the card, as well as additional fees for many of the everyday features that customers used. That card's fees were so egregious that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal referred to the Kardashian Kard as "predatory."

By contrast, the Occupy Card's minimal fees are reasonable, and the card is designed to help customers find fee-free alternatives to many of the actions that incur charges.

Still, some other prepaid cards charge even less.

Bluebird, for instance, is a card offered jointly by Walmart and American Express (AXP). The card has no monthly or annual fee and also doesn't charge for initial activation. It offers a variety of different no-cost funding methods, including direct deposit, transfers from a bank account, or checks deposited by mail or through a mobile app. For those who use direct deposit, ATM transactions at in-network MoneyPass locations are free, and the card doesn't impose any fees for bill payment and purchase transactions. Bluebird even offers paper checks, with the costs waived throughout the rest of 2013.

With a goal of $900,000 for its fundraising drive, the Occupy Money Cooperative hopes to change the way people manage their money. Whether it succeeds will depend on whether enough people are willing to bear its minimal costs rather than turning to even cheaper alternatives to get many of the same services.

You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google+. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool recommends American Express and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Visa. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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GoBank, the newly refreshed Amex Serve card and several prepaid products from Banks are better than this card.

October 28 2013 at 9:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

A lot of these comments talk about "issuing" the OWS card. It's not issued, it's purchased. Prepaid debit cards do not require underwriting because they're not credit products. You don't apply for them. They're stored value cards, like gift cards. The difference is that prepaid debit cards are normally loaded with fees. There is no due date, interest, overlimit fees, credit reporting, or anything that normally occurs with a credit card.

October 22 2013 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John's comment

The card has to be issued by a Bank to have FDIC insurance.

October 28 2013 at 9:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Russell Spears

Any attempt to supplant or build more cooperative based businesses is clearly in the spirit of Occupy.

October 17 2013 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tom Harrell

Reminds me of the "HIPPY" movement of the 60s.---------------All the CONservatives were Screaming that it was "SUBVERSIVE" and "EVIL" and would lead to our "DESTRUCTION". -------------------Then the CONservatives started Dressing in BELL BOTTOMS and FLOWERS and letting their Hair Grow LONGER and the Next thing ya KNOW, It became a FASHION.---------------Gotta Wonder if they're trying to do the SAME thing with the OCCUPY Movement.?------------I think you can get a Better deal if you join your local Credit Union

October 15 2013 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

None of the above.

October 15 2013 at 10:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I guess they really ARE trying to occupy wall street.

October 15 2013 at 10:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Veronica's comment
Tom Harrell

OR, Wall Street is "OCCUPYING The Occupy Movement"!

October 15 2013 at 11:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i can see this working.......................NOT
occutards dont have enough brains between them to pull this off

October 15 2013 at 10:04 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

OWS trying to become a 1%?

October 15 2013 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

everyone who owns houses should be keep checking their record at registry of deeds in you town to just make sure not one like Citibank and lustig,glaser Wilson p.c has been place a lien in you home with out you know it .

October 15 2013 at 9:23 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

BECAREFULL with a lot collection lawyers that they buy this credit card debt and they blame on other innocent American people that they honestly work hard in this country to live day by day from their pay check but not stealing. I want to tell a real fraud that happen by Citibank south Dakota & Lustig,Glaser & Wilson p.c Kenneth C. Wilson in massachussetts. This CORRUPT corporations place a debt from other debtor to a couple innocent people since over two years ago by using other debtors debts who has different social security who has different birthday who has different marital status even he has two houses on the registry of deeds but this corrupted CORPORATIONS they use other innocent to place this debt. I say to my self is ridiculous how in this country is tolerated this injustice because is so sad went you go to the district court in Worcester and this judge acts in favor of this corrupted corporation even lawyers with lawyers they all lie to you went are looking for represent to you case.

October 15 2013 at 9:17 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply