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Kardashian Prepaid Debit Card? Don't Bother To 'Keep Up'

Last time I wrote about the Kardashians was when sister Khloe had reportedly fallen behind on paying her taxes. Now the family is back in the financial headlines with the launch of the Kardashian Prepaid Debit MasterCard, a partnership with Mobile Resource Card. Oh, and it's being marketed to teens.

I'll be the first to admit that I occasionally tune in to the family's reality show on E! - but their latest attempt to promote their brand and celebrity is unwatchable. As I was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer this morning, I think this is an absolute joke. Mixing pop celebrities with financial management is hardly ever a winning formula - particularly when celebs with zero financial credibility attach themselves to financial products. Selling perfume? OK. But pushing plastic?

"There are no other better people to represent this card because of their significant fan base, especially to reach the younger audience," says spokeswoman Eve Sarkisyan.
But that's mainly why I find the Kardashian Prepaid MasterCard so menacing. It targets teenagers, a highly impressionable group. (It's not the only celebrity card: Russell Simmons has lent his name to the Rush Card from Visa. Meanwhile, teen-focused MyPlash cards feature characters from "Twilight," Emily the Strange and more.)

Sarkisyan goes on to say that the new card can "teach younger adults how to better manage their money." I doubt it. They're not likely to see the card as an educational tool, but rather as something to flash around and swipe, swipe - in the spirit of "Keeping Up" with the Kardashians. (Interestingly, I do recall one early episode of the show where Kim was battling a "shopping addiction"; the family later staged a "shopping intervention.")

The card's marketers boast that parents can track their kids' spending activity with the card. But that's nothing new. Parents can do that with most debit and credit cards these days, as long as they have access to the accounts. You can also transfer money from a mobile account to the Kardashian card using your phone. You can also view spending and card balances instantly on your cell phone with a text message. I'm sure that's also just what parents want - more text messages showing up on their kids' cell phone bills.

Of course, this card won't be free to use. According to the card's fine print, the card will run you $99.95 for a year or $59.95 for six months. After that it's $7.95 per month. There are also the typical ATM withdrawal fees. By contrast, a recent Consumers Union survey that looked at 19 prepaid cards found that activation fees tended to start at $3 and reach as high as $40. My fellow MoneyWatch blogger Dan Kadlec recommends the Upside Edge from Visa - a teen card that costs just $29.95 a year, allows for free reloads from a parent checking account and gives cash-back rewards equal to 1% of funds loaded.

"A waste of hard-earned money," says my friend and financial literacy expert Susan Beacham, CEO of Money Savvy Generation. "The real deal is a free traditional debit card that is linked to a checking account. And when you link a debit card to a checking account you also help your child keep their spending 'in check' - as they can only spend today what they have in their own bank account today."

Bottom line: Skip the designer plastic. Account balances are a much more sensible thing for your kids to "keep up" with.

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Photo courtesy ChicagoFabulous's Photostream on Flickr
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