Published Weekly at Credit Sesame & SmartCredit & Mint.com

My Experience With The Prepaid Debit Card Public Relations Person

A couple of weeks ago I received an unsolicited message from a woman who claimed to handle PR for a segment of the prepaid debit card industry. Her initial note, while polite enough, acknowledged my coverage of prepaid debit cards and suggested that I reach out to her for a “balanced perspective.”

Now, for those of your who follow my writing have probably figured out that I’m fairly thick skinned and hardly hypersensitive but suggesting that my coverage of prepaid debit cards is out of balance, especially in her initial email, probably isn’t the best way to get what you want. You know, the whole catching more flies with honey thing?

Still, I thanked her for reaching out and told her I wasn’t really interested in talking points but if she could get one of the celebs who have decided to endorse or invest in prepaid debit cards in a chair across from me I’d be delighted to speak with them about prepaid debit cards.

Finally, and this is important, I asked her which prepaid debit card she used. 1st time.

A week later she responded apparently insulted that I didn’t want her talking points. So sorry! All of the PR firms I’ve used in the past specialized in talking points. She then went off on some of my media appearances saying my comments were troubling and false.

Oh boy. I knew at that point that I had been pulled into a quasi-political discussion where my “right” was being counter-argued with her strategy of apparently brow beating people who wouldn’t agree with her. It was DNC v RNC, Alabama v Auburn, Luke v Vadar.

Again, and this is important, I asked her which prepaid debit card she used. 2nd time.

My problem was I fell for it. I tried to argue some of her points with what I thought were logical and solid fact based counter-arguments, like how people in the ChexSystems database were unable to get checking accounts because, shockingly, THEY WROTE BAD CHECKS!!! I also pulled out what I thought was the Coup de Grace…simple math! I pointed out that paying $0 per month for properly managed checking and credit card accounts is less than paying any amount that is greater than $0 for a prepaid debit card. I even confirmed my math with my 5 year old. Still, it didn’t work. I was caught in PR spin hell.

Her next tactic was a massive strategic mistake…she entered the world of credit reporting with her argument, which is my back yard. She actually suggested that some prepaid debit cards have a credit building feature. I knew we were almost done because I was going to unleash the most powerful of all arguments…the truth. I knew that no prepaid debit card actually helped their customers build, rebuild or establish credit. Heck, even the Federal Reserve acknowledges as much…

“In addition, these cards (prepaid debit cards) presently offer no credit-building benefits to consumers who may lack sufficient credit histories. Despite appeals from prepaid card companies, the credit bureaus have been reluctant to create standard data reporting formats for “noncredit” transactions?”

I did what any normally functioning credit expert would do at this point…I asked her to clearly identify which prepaid debit cards are offering credit building. I also reminder her to “please be specific so I can actually go to their websites and see the credit builder programs offered by these “Some” prepaid debit cards.”

Yeah, she was cooked and didn’t have a good answer, let alone any answer at all. And as is common when the weak don’t have a good answer…you stoop to more insults. There ended our discussion with her final salvo coming straight from the “bad customer service representative” list of stock responses, “I find the tone of your emails and reporting to border insulting.”

Yes, I agree fully…the truth about prepaid debit cards is often painful and it can come across as insulting. I take solace in the fact that I sleep very well at night knowing that A) my and my son’s math is correct and B) that prepaid debit cards don’t have “credit building” features and C) that I honestly believe I’m right.

Finally, I never did find out what prepaid debit card this devotee of the product actually used. “The email also wasn’t about what prepaid cards I use or sharing any of my personal banking information with you.” Translation: I don’t use a prepaid debit card.

**the full text of my email conversation with the prepaid debit card public relations person is available if I’m found in a ditch someday.

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