redesign | payments: Finally, proposed protections on prepaid banking products

In November, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) published proposed regulations seeking to protect consumers in a market that has mostly been ignored: prepaid banking products.

The prepaid product market has grown from a $1 billion business in 2003 to an estimated $100 billion in 2014, with no signs of slowing. About 8 percent of all U.S. households use prepaid card and accounts, representing the growing number of people without bank accounts. Typically, prepaid accounts provide a way to pay bills electronically or purchase items online for those without credit or debit cards.

What exactly are prepaid banking products? Mostly preloaded and reloadable debit cards, but the proposed regulations extend beyond any plastic in your wallet. The CFPB also seeks to regulate electronic code or any device designed to store prepaid funds or capable of being loaded with funds. That means the regulation would cover not only physical prepaid cards such as those issued by employers to pay wages or those provided to pay government benefits (such as unemployment), but also electronic wallets such as PayPal, Google Wallet or Venmo.

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