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With prepaid cards, consumers can enjoy the convenience of plastic money without fear of getting into huge debt.

Just like credit cards, prepaid plastic allows shoppers to book air and movie tickets, purchase groceries and make payments at home or abroad. The only major difference is that prepaid card users are spending their own money and they’re not obliged to open a bank account.

A major draw for prepaid cards is that it takes only minutes to get one and there’s no need for users to go through lengthy applications and credit cheques. Adding to their convenience, most prepaid card products can be obtained over the counter and used right away.

With its popularity among debt-conscious consumers, the prepaid card market has seen the entry of major companies, banks and third-party providers. Majid Al Futtaim Finance introduced last year two of its major products in the UAE, the LoadnShop and MyNetCard, both are a natural progression from the popular Visa gift card called Just For You.

The cards were tailor-made to meet the demand of customers looking for a reloadable prepaid Visa card and one that could allow them to make online purchases. Another relatively new entrant, Al Fardan Exchange, have recently launched Travelez card, to cater to mobile customers who love to travel and shop.

For consumers who consider cash to be a cause for annoyance but want to stay out of debt, it may be worth considering getting a prepaid card. Here’s a look at some of the prepaid cards available in the market today:

LoadnShop and MyNetCard

Why you should get it: These two cards by Majid Al Futtaim Finance can be obtained without opening a bank account. They are widely sold over the counter at more than 100 locations, so you can easily grab one while shopping at Carrefour or stopping for petrol at Eppco or Enoc. Both cards can be managed online, 24 hours or seven days a week. This means you can keep track of your balance on the card and if you’re using LoadnShop, you can reload and manage fund transfers at any time of day on the web.

Where you can use it: LoadnShop is reloadable and can be used anywhere in the world where Visa is accepted, online or in store. MyNetCard, however, is strictly an online card and can’t be reloaded.

What currency you can load into the card: For now you can only load local currency or dirhams. However, if you use your LoadnShop abroad, the transaction will be adjusted according to currency conversion rates. The same card can be used to withdraw any local currency from cash machines globally.

The MyNetCArd only accepts dirhams, though it can be used anywhere online where Visa is accepted.

How your card is protected against fraud: Both cards have a dynamic three-digit SAFE code or card verification value, making it possible for the cardholder to easily generate a unique and one-time use SAFE code for individual purchases.

When traveling abroad, the user can authorize the use of the card in specific countries, to ensure international transactions are secure. Card users are, however, encouraged to register their cards and call the provider (through 04-205 400) in cases where the card is lost or stolen.

Travelez

Why you should get it: Travelez is a Visa prepaid card from Al Fardan Exchange that can be used at over 29 million outlets worldwide. It is the first of its kind US dollar-reloadable card. It offers discounts at various locations, including certain websites. It offers 24/7 customer service and enables users to make card-to-card transfer for money remittances.

Where you can use it: It can be used to shop, dine at restaurants, pay for entertainment or buy goods and services online.

What currency you can load into the card: The card is available in two currencies, dirhams and dollars. You can load UAE currency into the dirham card and US currency into the dollar card.

How your card is protected against fraud: Should someone get hold of your card or card details, you can block it by alerting the call centre or you can go to the Travelez website and block the card. The card can be re-issued to customers upon request, with the balance available on the card.

RakBank Loaded, Bling and Bayani cards

Why you should get it: These three prepaid cards can easily be topped up with cash and used at any merchant outlet that accepts MasterCard, including websites. The cards are not linked to any current or savings account. They allow unlimited cash withdrawals, online payments and point-of-sale purchases locally or abroad.

The application process is quite simple, too. Existing Rakbank customers can complete the application online and have the cards sent to them by courier. New customers are, however, are required to visit a branch after making the online application to present the necessary identification requirements. The cards also come with lifestyle and entertainment privileges from over 100 outlets in the UAE. The Bayani card is ideal for Filipino expatriates in the UAE, as it facilitates instant money transfers.

Where you can use it: The cards can be used anywhere where MasterCard is accepted.

What currency you can load into the card: The prepaid cards can be loaded only with dirhams. However, the Bayani card has two currency wallets (dirham and US dollar).

How your card is protected against fraud: If the card is lost or stolen and used in a fraudulent transaction, Rakbank, “in most cases” reimburses the customer once the bank is advised. The bank is also working on converting all the bank’s cards to chip and personal identification number technology, to add a layer of protection against card fraud.

Cashu

Why you should get it: Similar to MyNetCard, this prepaid card is best suited for online junkies who turn to cyberspace to shop. However it allows users to make Internet purchases without revealing any personal information, thereby removing the risk of fraud.

Being a payment partner with major local e-commerce brands, it comes handy when shopping at popular websites like Souq, Cobone and Sukar. It also takes the hassle out when dealing with sites that don’t offer cash on delivery options, such as when buying online games or paying for website subscriptions and domain registrations. There are also ongoing promotions that let users avail themselves of special discounts and prizes.

Where you can use it: You can use the card for online purchases

What currency you can load into the card: cashU is available in the Middle East and Africa, so it accepts all currencies within these two regions, as well as US dollars.

How your card is protected against fraud: The card provider says they are using a “payment platform that is built upon the most sophisticated and up-to-date fraud prevention and anti-money laundering systems”, so you can be rest assured your card or transactions are secure.