Monday, December 3, 2012

The Bluebird Card Challenge - Part Two

Greetings underdogs!

This is the second in my series of five posts reviewing the Bluebird prepaid card as an alternative to traditional banking. The first post explains my initial fascination with the card and the purpose of the Bluebird challenge.
This post recaps my experience activating the card and using it for the first time.

After publishing my first post, I drove to the nearest Walmart store to to begin my challenge. Upon entering the store I was immediately greeted by a large bright display full of temporary Bluebird card boxes.

I indiscriminately grabbed a box and took it to the checkout stand. The cashier told me this was the first card she'd ever sold and called a PIC for assistance.

I stepped back and reached for my iPhone to kill the time.

Luckily, before I even unlocked my phone she figured it out and rang up the card, which cost me $5.00. I handed her two twenties, which loaded $35.00 on to the card, and I was off.

When I got home I went online to www.bluebird.com to register for my permanent card, as the package instructed.

The online form required my name, social security number, and mailing address -- post office boxes are not accepted.

For what ever reason I have no concern providing my social security number but am hesitant to give out my home address. I decided to compromise and provided my office address.

When asked for the cardholder name, just for fun, I added, "Esq." after my last name. The system wouldn't allow the period but did allow my name to read, "Michael Fuller ESQ". Cute. The computer screen said I should expect my Bluebird card within a week, and so I waited.

In the meantime, I made my first purchase using the temporary card -- a drying rack at Ikea. 

I used the self-serve lane, scanned my item, selected "American Express" as payment method, then swiped the temporary card.

At this point I still had doubts as to whether the card would work. It didn't have my name on it, was only half the thickness as a typical credit card, and was purchased just a few hours prior.

But then in a very anticlimactic manner, the screen said "approved", a receipt spit out, and I was on my way, drying rack in hand.

In a few days the permanent Bluebird card arrived at my office, as promised. I was happy to see the "ESQ" made its way onto the front of the card. In most respects, the card looked pretty inconspicuous.

My worst fear in making the switch from traditional banking to Bluebird is being associated with the stigma attached to prepaid cards. I just imagine a waiter walking back and announcing to my table, "Sorry sir, your prepaid Walmart card was declined..."

The Bluebird card looks like a typical American Express card in almost all respects. The differences being no signature is required and the word "PREPAID" is written in small print on the back.

Purchases two through nine on the card were small charges for parking meters downtown. No issues to report. My most recent tenth purchase was for Nutcracker tickets online. No issues to report there either.

In sum, my activation and first uses of the Bluebird card were fairly straightforward, inexpensive, and painless.

For folks looking to avoid the initial $5.00 cost to purchase a temporary card, American Express allows customers to order permanent cards free online.

My next post will address the fine print on the back of the card that reads, "USE OF THIS CARD IS SUBJECT TO MEMBER AGREEMENT". In it, I'll explain the key terms and conditions of use in plain English and highlight any anti-consumer clauses in the contract's fine print.

Until then, cheers!