Friday, July 31, 2009

A Poor Man's Debit Card

Recently, I purchased a debit card from Walgreen's with the hope of not having to open a bank account. I wanted something I could put my money on that would be universally-accepted as a means of exchange.

I was amazed at how much it cost to buy a piece of plastic with embossed numbers--about ten dollars. But then I thought, "Well they gotta pay their employees and carry out the system effectively." So I didn't think too much more of that.

Then they want to hit you with a monthy "maintenance" fee. I guess they figure they need to account for all the work that their computers do when they're flashing numbers between one another? But the most unforgiving of these fees is the fee I have to pay EACH AND EVERY TIME I put money on the card. There's no redeeming economic value that is captured with such a fee besides out and out greed.

What I propose is the creation of a "poor man's card." This card would be a store of value, universally-accepted and free of any unnecessary fees. It would be issued by a nonprofit organization that would work in conjunction with government and retail entities, ensuring compliance with all pertinent laws and contracting fee agreements with the major merchants. Smaller businesses would certainly be welcome to join, but in the initial implementation, a goal of securing such contracts with the major merchants would be advisable in terms of marketing the card and getting the consuming public familar with the card.

The banks would not like this because it would take a lot of their low-income customers away, but low-income people have only a need for a store of value and universality.