Prepaid Cards in India

The use of prepaid cards is a comparatively new concept in India. It is gaining in popularity because of its safety features and the benefits it offers to the users. The premier banks in India, such as State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Yes Bank, and American Express Bank issue prepaid cards to their customers. Prepaid cards have revolutionised shopping experiences because of their convenience and acceptability.

Prepaid Cards - The Concept

As the name suggests, prepaid cards are credit/debit card-like instruments that come loaded with a specific amount of money. These cards work in the same way as credit or debit cards do. However, the customers can use the prepaid cards only up to the extent of money loaded into them. They have to make their purchases accordingly. Different types of prepaid cards are available where the customer has the option of reloading it after the exhaustion of the balance.

Prepaid Cards - Different types

Different variants of prepaid cards are available in India:

Open Loop Prepaid Cards

Open Loop Prepaid Cards are the most commonly available prepaid cards in India. Usually, these cards are co-branded. MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Itz Cash, and RuPay are some examples of service providers to banks that issue prepaid cards. Such cards carry the logo of the issuing bank, as well as the co-branded service provider. In a way, they are similar in appearance to the credit and debit cards. These cards have a high degree of acceptance at merchant establishments, online e-commerce retailers, and bank ATMs. Thus, customers can use the cards for offline and online purchases, as well as for withdrawing cash from an ATM.

Closed Loop Prepaid Cards

A Closed Loop Prepaid Card is different in the sense that they have limited acceptance as compared to Open Loop Prepaid Cards. The Closed Loop Prepaid Cards are accepted at the specific merchant outlet for the purchase of products and services at specified outlets. One of the best examples of a Closed Loop Prepaid Card is the Gift Card. Customers cannot use this card at ATMs to withdraw cash.

Semi-open Loop Prepaid Cards

The Semi-open Loop Prepaid Card is a combination of the open-loop and closed-loop prepaid cards. Instead of the bank as one of the service providers, these cards have shopping malls or retail chain networks as the issuers of the card. These cards have acceptability at all such locations that have partnership arrangement with the issuing organisation. A classic example of a semi-open loop card is the ones issued by retail chains like Big Bazaar (Future Group). Such cards are accepted at all retail outlets of Big Bazaar and partnering organisations like Food Bazaar, Brand Factory, Central, and so on. Thus, they have a wider acceptance, as compared to the closed-loop prepaid cards.

Reloadable Prepaid Cards

As the name suggests, these prepaid cards can be reloaded after the exhaustion of the balance in the existing card. Most of the banks issue reloadable prepaid cards where the customer can recharge the balance online, as well. The Foreign Travel Prepaid Card is a prime example of a reloadable prepaid card. On reloading the balance, the customer can continue using the card in the same manner. Banks stipulate limits up to which you can reload a prepaid card. It is for the safety of the individual.

Non-reloadable Prepaid Cards

Non-reloadable Prepaid Cards are those that can be funded only once. On exhaustion of the balance, the card becomes useless. Usually, gift cards come under this category. Customers can purchase from the specified outlets up to the extent of the balance available on the card.

Prepaid Cards - Features

  • Similar in appearance and usage to credit/debit cards
  • The prepaid cards today come with additional safety features like SIM cards, very similar to what credit and debit cards have.
  • Use to withdraw cash from ATM, if the type of card permits you to do so
  • Facility to the customer to make cashless transactions
  • Reloading of balances permitted for specific kinds of prepaid cards
  • Customer can use the prepaid card up to the extent of balances loaded into it

Prepaid Cards - Benefits

  • Customers can use the prepaid cards in the same way they use credit and debit cards, online or offline.
  • Open Loop Prepaid cards and specific reloadable prepaid cards (those issued by banks) permit cash withdrawals at ATMs.
  • Customer can check the spending patterns, as the card will not allow him/her to overdraw the balance.
  • The balances in the prepaid card are the customer's funds. Hence, there is no credit risk for banks. Therefore, CIBIL checks are not necessary for the issuance of prepaid cards.
  • The prepaid cards are ideal instruments to use, especially for people who do not have any bank account.
  • Acquiring a prepaid card is easy, much unlike the procedure necessary for applying for a Credit Card.
  • Corporate employers can disburse salaries through prepaid cards if their employees do not have any bank account.
  • Prepaid cards can function like gift cards, especially for gifting during weddings and birthdays.
  • Students and individuals going abroad can find such cards to be useful as compared to carrying cash.

Prepaid Cards - Drawbacks

  • Reloadable cards become useless unless you reload the balances
  • There is not much clarity as far as consumer protection norms for such types of prepaid cards
  • These cards are equivalent to money. Hence, there are chances of misuse if lost or misplaced/stolen.

Prepaid Cards - Some of the best on offer

Here are some commonly used Prepaid Cards in India:

State Bank of India

State Bank of India issues the following types of prepaid cards for specific purposes:

  • Foreign Travel Card
    • SBI Foreign Travel Card is a useful Foreign Currency Card for students and other individuals travelling abroad.
    • This chip-based card offers the most convenient way of carrying money. The card is valid in all countries except India, Nepal, and Bhutan.
    • This card allows you to use it as you would use a regular credit/debit card
    • The advantage is that there are no joining or membership fees for applying for the card
    • The loading is in foreign currency. Hence, there are no Foreign Currency Markup Charges that you incur on Credit Cards.
    • The SBI Foreign Travel Card is available in eight currencies, USD, GBP, EUR, JPY, CAD, AUD, SAR (Saudi Arab Riyal), and SGD.
    • Nominal charges apply for the issuance of the card, and at the time of loading/reloading
  • EZ-PAY Card
    • EZ-PAY Card is a prepaid card issued by State Bank of India in Indian Rupees
    • This card is issued in association with VISA
    • The purpose of EZ-PAY Card is to enable corporate and other business organisations to make periodical payments such as old-age pension, wages, salaries, scholarships, commission, and social benefits.
    • The EZ-PAY Card is ideal when the corporate or business entity has employees working at different locations.
    • It is not compulsory to have an SBI account for issuing EZ-PAY Card
    • It is possible to use the EZ-PAY as a standard credit/debit card
    • Cash withdrawal is allowed on the EZ-PAY card
    • EZ-PAY is available as a personalised, as well as, non-personalised card
  • Gift Card
    • The Gift Card is issued in association with VISA International
    • This gift card is a non-reloadable card with a maximum amount of 10,000
    • The SBI Gift card is usable at all VISA-enabled merchant establishments, POS, and e-commerce transactions.
    • The SBI Gift Card is a better alternative to the gift vouchers issued by retail stores because the Gift Card is valid across all eligible merchant establishments.
    • Cash withdrawal is not allowed on this gift card
    • Usually, the Gift card is non-personalised. Online gift cards are personalised cards.
  • Achiever Card
    • The SBI Achiever Card is a prepaid card in Indian Rupees in association with VISA International
    • The purpose of this prepaid card is to enable corporate and other business entities to pay non-cash incentives to their employees, such as performance bonus, and so on.
    • This card is a reloadable card with the maximum amount restricted to 1 Lakh
    • The card can be used at VISA-enabled merchant establishments and for online transactions. Cash withdrawal is not permissible.
    • SBI charges nominal fees for issuing this card
    • Both personalised and non-personalised cards can be issued

ICICI Bank

ICICI Bank is one of the first banks in India when it comes to issuing prepaid cards. The bank has a variety of products to suit all purposes.

  • Expressions Gift Card
    • Expressions Gift Card is a gift card that should be perfect for every occasion
    • This VISA-associated card is readily available and valid for usage at all shops and online purchases, as well.
    • The minimum amount of gift card is 500, and the maximum is 9,500
    • It is possible to add a picture and personalise the card
    • It is a digital card where the beneficiary can click on the link to unwrap the gift. A physical gift card is also permissible.
    • Use your OTP to activate the card and start shopping online and offline
    • The gift card is valid for one year
  • PayDirect Card
    • The PayDirect card is a reloadable card that can be used for making regular payments like salaries, wages, incentives, and commissions. It is an ideal alternative to the conventional payroll cheques.
    • The user can withdraw funds from ATMs and also use it for online/offline purchases
    • The user can use it as a standard debit card where they get instant SMS on every transaction
    • The beneficiary does not have to maintain any bank account to receive payment
    • ICICI Bank charges a nominal fee for registering for the issuance of the PayDirect card
  • Pockets The Digital Bank
    • 'Pockets' is a digital wallet app that can be used to pay your utility bills, shop online and offline, and do all kinds of transactions that a person can do with a digital wallet.
    • Registering for the Pockets app is free
    • The registered user can also apply for a Pockets prepaid card for use at merchant locations
    • Recharging the pockets wallet is a straightforward process
  • Multi Wallet Card
    • ICICI Bank Multi Wallet Card is the ideal prepaid card to enable corporate and other big business entities to pay incentives like meals, travel, telecom, medical, and fuel to its employees.
    • There is no need to maintain separate accounts for each head
    • This card is available as a personalised and non-personalised card
    • The user can use it as any regular debit card to make purchases online and offline
    • You can pay utility bills and do other transactions online using this prepaid card
    • The user can also withdraw cash from ATMs
  • Gift Card
    • ICICI Bank Gift Card is the ideal way to gift anyone, especially on weddings and birthdays, and other special occasions.
    • The Gift Card is a preloaded card valid for one year
    • The minimum loading amount is 500 with the maximum being 10,000
    • The user can use this gift card up to the amount loaded for purchasing products offline and online.
    • There are facilities to issue a gift card online through net banking
    • There are different types of gift cards such as Expressions Gift Card, Corporate Gift Card, and so on.
  • Meal Card
    • Corporate companies and other business entities can load the meal card and hand it over to the employees instead of issuing meal vouchers.
    • The user can use the meal card for food, beverages, and ready-to-eat items alone
    • It is a reloadable card that makes it easy for corporate as well as their employees
  • Reimbursement Card
    • The reimbursement card is a prepaid card for settling the payment of expenses to employees.
    • The user can use this card online and offline
    • One can withdraw cash from ATMs using the reimbursement card
  • Foreign Travel Card
    • International travellers and students can avail the foreign travel card as a substitute for carrying hard currency.
    • Reloading the travel card is possible from anywhere using Net Banking facility
    • The travel card is similar to a debit card and can be used as such
    • The ICICI Bank Foreign Travel Card is available in 15 currencies

HDFC Bank

HDFC Bank offers the following prepaid cards:

  • GiftPlus Card
    • This Gift Card is the perfect alternative to cash or gift vouchers
    • This Visa Card is acceptable at all Visa-enabled merchant locations and online as well
    • Cash withdrawal is not permissible
    • The eGiftPlus Card is the digital variant of the GiftPlus Card
  • FoodPlus Card
    • Corporate and other business entities can use this card as an alternative to giving meal vouchers to their employees.
    • The user can use this card at all Visa/RuPay Food and Beverage outlets
    • Checking the balance at HDFC Bank ATMs is possible
  • Apollo Medical Benefit Card
    • This card enables the user to get discounts on health check-ups, medicines, and diagnostic procedures.
    • Corporate entities can offer medical allowances and reimbursement by issuing this prepaid card.
    • This reloadable card offers free accidental insurance of 3 Lakhs and accident hospitalisation cover up to 30,000.
    • The user can avail services like free ambulance services
  • Money Plus Card
    • This card is the ideal prepaid card that allows corporate companies to make small payments
    • The user can use this card as a standard debit card at Visa-enabled ATMs, merchant establishments, and for online shopping.
    • The MoneyPlus Benefit Card is a variant that enables the corporate and other business entities to make recurring payments like commissions and incentives to employees/others.
    • Other variants of the MoneyPlus Card are the MoneyPlus Retail GPR Card, MoneyPlus Dependent GPR Card, MoneyPlus Petro Card, and MoneyPlus Petty Cash Card, GPR Card, and the Reward Card.
  • FASTag Card
    • The FASTag Card enables users to pay toll on the highways easily without having to pay cash
    • There are specific counters that accept FASTag Cards, thereby, ensuring that the user does not have to wait in long queues at highway-toll plazas across the country.
  • FleetXpress
    • The FleetXpress Card is a Digital Cash management Solution for fleet transportation companies.
    • It enables easy disbursal of salaries and other expenses to drivers online
    • The card comes with spend-control limits
    • It is possible to track the spending on this card online

Similarly, banks like Axis Bank, Yes Bank, American Express Bank, and other banks in India have their versions of the prepaid card for similar purposes.

Prepaid Cards - Frequently Asked Questions

Is the prepaid card a debit card or a Credit Card?

Though a prepaid card looks similar to a credit and debit card, it is neither of them. In some ways, you can term it as a debit card because you cannot use it for amounts more than the balances loaded into them. However, they are different, as well, because some of the prepaid cards are not reloadable. Secondly, entities other than banks can also issue prepaid cards.

Does the user have to pay any charges for the prepaid card?

Usually, the user does not have to pay any charges for using the prepaid card. However, using it at merchant establishments and payment gateways can entail the user to incur some expenses.

What is the maximum limit that can be loaded on to the prepaid card?

Usually, the gift cards come with a limit that can go up to 10,000. The other cards do not necessarily have a limit unless specified by the issuing bank.

Is it possible to block the prepaid card if I have lost it?

Yes, it is possible to block the prepaid card in the same way as you block credit/debit cards.

Who can apply for a prepaid card from a bank?

Any person can apply for a prepaid card from a bank. You need not be a customer of the bank. However, corporate entities and other big business organisations are the most significant applicants of prepaid cards.

Which are the most common prepaid cards?

The Foreign Travel Cards, the FASTag Cards, and Gift Cards are the most commonly used prepaid cards today.

Are prepaid cards safe to use?

Yes, prepaid cards are safe to use because they come with the same safety features that credit and debit cards possess.

Is it possible to obtain cash using a prepaid card?

It depends on the circumstances. The Foreign Travel Card enables users to withdraw cash. Similarly, the prepaid cards that employers give for salary, incentives, rewards, bonuses, and commissions permit cash withdrawal at ATMs. The gift cards and other cards like fuel cards, food cards, and so on do not allow cash withdrawal.

Are prepaid cards popular?

Yes, with the Government encouraging cashless transactions, corporate companies and large business establishments are switching over to prepaid cards to pay their employees.

Is it possible to use a digital prepaid card for offline purchases?

No, it is not possible to use a digital prepaid card for offline purchases. One has to use them online only.    

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