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Missouri bank making money off fees from prepaid debit cards for unemployment

Economy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) – As unemployed Missourians struggle to pay their bills, one bank is making money from the crisis.

Central Bank, based in Jefferson City, has the state contract for the prepaid debit card about 30,000 Missourians use to collect their unemployment benefits. Those debit cards come with an extensive list of fees.

So many fees that Harold Julius is furious.

“This isn’t what I pay taxes for so they can charge me fees to collect unemployment,” said Julius, who has suddenly found himself out of work for the first time in 28 years as a union carpenter.

Central Bank charges $2 to withdraw money from an ATM if you make more than one withdrawal a week. The same goes with checking your balance. It’s $1 each time if you do it more than once each week. There’s a $5 charge to use a bank teller and $3 if you call a customer service representative for help more than once a week.

That service representative fee is something Howard said he discovered after he had trouble logging into his account.

“Their computer crashed and the only way to log onto that site was to call the card, and after two weeks and 105 calls, I finally got a hold of this lady from Mo Access,” Julius said.

Mo Access is the name of Missouri’s unemployment benefits debit card. That call for help cost Julius $3.

So far, Julius estimated he’s burned up at least $7.50 in fees at a time he’s already having trouble making ends meet.

“I think it’s wrong for someone to make money on everyone being on unemployment,” Julius said.

A Central Bank spokesman told WDAF that most people don’t end up paying the fees by limiting their use of the ATM or call center to just once a week.

However, if you compare Kansas’ unemployment debit card arrangement to Missouri’s the difference is stark.

There are almost no fees in Kansas. The only fees are if you use an out-of-network ATM or lose your card. Bank of America is in charge of the Kansas card.

Credit card analyst Ted Rossman of bankrate.com said there are ways to avoid fees.

“One way to get around an out-of-network ATM fee is to make a debit purchase at the point of sale and ask for cash back,” he said.

User fees on unemployment debit cards used to be common place, but in recent years, many states have struck new deals with banks and eliminated the fees.

“People don’t want to feel like they are being nickled and dimed, especially at a time they are struggling financially,” Rossman said.

Fees aren’t the only way banks make money from prepaid cards. They also get paid every time the card is used to purchase something (usually between 1 and 3%).

A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Labor said Missourians are made aware of the fees before they sign up for a debit card. She said people can avoid paying any fees by choosing to have their checks deposited directly into their bank account

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