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How the Occupy Wall Street Debit Card Stacks Up

Christine DiGangi

The Occupy Wall Street movement started just more than two years ago, in which thousands protested large financial institutions and income inequality in the U.S., sparking a conversation about the role of financial institutions in our lives.

In the two months leading up to Nov. 5, 2011, also known as Bank Transfer Day, an estimated 441,000 people opened bank accounts at credit unions, according to Credit Union National Association. About a quarter of the 5.6 million who changed banks in the final quarter of 2011 cited bank fees as the reason for switching, according to coverage from Reuters.

Even though Bank Transfer Day was a separate event from OWS geared towards abandoning large banks for credit unions, some were inspired by the movement to create a different option: The Occupy Card.

This summer, the Occupy Money Cooperative started to gain media attention as it called for donations to its prepaid debit card service. Its website says the idea came from protesters who met in Zuccotti Park, and the mission is listed as such on the website:

“Our basic mission as a cooperative financial services organization is to provide fairly-priced, member-managed, and non-predatory financial products to the 99%. Our purpose is to revolutionize the current financial system by offering alternative products and services based on the principles of democracy, inclusion, and fairness.”

The cooperative’s card isn’t available because sufficient funds are not yet accessible, but in the meantime people can examine the fee structure and decide if it’s appealing to them. The website says the cooperative needs just shy of $1 million for the first year.

As far as the fees go, the site breaks them down, saying how often one can expect to pay each fee and how to avoid some of them.

Credit.com’s Director of Consumer Education Gerri Detweiler looked at the proposed feeds and gave her assessment:

“The fees are very competitive. They are on par with some of the lowest fee programs in the country like Bluebird,” Detweiler said. “It’s also great that they make it clear to their cardholders that there are ways to avoid many fees.”

But she also pointed out the pitfalls of prepaid debit cards in general, not just with this card. Prepaid cards do not help consumers build their credit, and they often do not carry consumer protections comparable to credit cards. It’s important for consumers to know this difference, though prepaid cards can be very helpful. For those with bad or no credit, prepaid cards don’t require credit checks, and the card gives people access to online shopping, online bill pay and ATM use.

Whether or not the card will come to fruition can’t be determined now, but consumers should research and compare prepaid debit cards to see if that sort of card — if it’s the Occupy Card or a different one — will work for them.  Consumers with bad credit who are looking to raise their credit score should consider getting a secured card, which is a credit card that requires a deposit, but does build credit. As you build credit, it’s important to monitor your credit score for changes (both positive and negative), and there are free tools that can help you do that. One such tool, Credit.com’s Credit Report Card, updates your credit score and an overview of your credit report for free every month, which can make it easier to track your progress.

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