What Is a Payroll Card?

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DEFINITION
A payroll card is a prepaid card used to pay employee wages or salary.

A payroll card is a prepaid card used to pay employee wages or salary. Employers may offer workers the option to get paid via a payroll card in place of a direct deposit or receiving a paper check.

Payroll cards work similarly to other prepaid cards, and they can be used to pay bills, make purchases or withdraw cash at an ATM. You might consider getting paid via a payroll card if you don't have a bank account—but it helps to understand how they work first.

Let’s learn more about how payroll cards work, who might use them, and about the alternatives.

Definition and Example of Payroll Card

A payroll card is a prepaid card loaded with an employee's salary or wages. Employers may pay their employees this way in place of issuing a paper check or depositing wages directly into employee bank accounts.

Employers can't require employees to get paid via payroll cards. If an employer offers payroll cards, they must also offer at least one other form of payment, such as direct deposit or paper check. Payroll cards are often issued by major credit card companies such as Visa or Mastercard.

Payroll cards aren't that different from other prepaid cards in terms of what you can do with them. Say, for example, that your employer offers a Visa-branded payroll card. Your employer loads your paychecks onto your card automatically each payday. You then can use the money to pay bills, make purchases where Visa is accepted, or withdraw cash at ATMs.

Employees may also be able to load additional funds onto the card, depending on the policies set by the card issuer.

How Payroll Cards Work

Employers can contract with a payment processor such as Visa or Mastercard to offer payroll cards to employees. They can offer the cards to employees who then decide if they want to get paid this way or via another method.

Each payday, wages for employees are loaded onto the payroll cards; these funds are available for immediate use.

There may be certain requirements employers have to meet under state labor laws in order to offer payroll cards to employees. For example:

  • Employees must have the ability to withdraw all monies on the card on payday.
  • One-time use of the card on payday must not trigger any fees for the employee.

Under Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rules, your employer is required to offer at least one other form of payment. If you opt for a payroll card, the employer or the card issuer must provide you with a copy of the card's terms and conditions. This is important for understanding what fees you might pay to use the card.

Once you get paid, you'll be able to use your card wherever it's accepted. So, again, if you have a Visa-branded payroll card, you could use it to pay your electric bill, buy groceries at the supermarket, shop online, or get cash at a nearby ATM. As you make purchases or withdrawals, funds are deducted from the balance on the card.

The card essentially functions as a prepaid debit card. Your balance would increase again on payday or when you load more funds.

Getting cash back at the checkout using a payroll card could help you avoid ATM fees.

Pros and Cons of Payroll Cards

Pros
  • Receive payment without a bank account

  • Access wages immediately with no check-cashing fees

  • Built-in features can make it easier to manage finances

Cons
  • Fees may apply

  • Problems with lost or stolen cards

  • Lack of features

Pros Explained

  • Receive payment without a bank account: Payroll cards can help people who are underbanked or unbanked manage their money. They can also be useful for people who may have been denied a bank account in the past.
  • Access wages immediately with no check-cashing fees: Check cashing services can charge a percentage of the check amount. Payroll cards allow employees who don't have bank accounts to sidestep those fees.
  • Built-in features can make it easier to manage finances: Payroll cards can allow employees to track their purchases, withdrawals, and bill payments, which can help with managing spending and budgeting.

Cons Explained

  • Fees may apply: While payroll cards charge no fees to get paid, employees may pay monthly fees, ATM withdrawal fees, reload fees, or fees to check their card balance.
  • Problems with lost or stolen cards: If an employee loses their payroll card or it's stolen, their employer can replace it, but that can delay their paychecks in the meantime. 
  • Lack of features: Bank accounts can offer features that payroll cards don't, such as access to savings accounts, rewards for purchases, or interest on balances.

Before opting for a payroll card, read the fine print to understand what you might pay in fees, how you can use the card, and what to do if you decide you'd like to get paid a different way later on.

Key Takeaways

  • Payroll cards are prepaid cards employers can use to pay wages or salary to employees.
  • Employers that offer payroll cards are required to offer at least one other form of payment to employees.
  • Payroll cards can be used to make purchases, pay bills, or withdraw cash without requiring the employee to have a bank account.
  • Using a payroll card can offer convenience to underbanked or unbanked employees, but bank accounts also have advantages to consider.

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “What Is a Payroll Card?” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  2. Visa. “Visa Payroll Card.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  3. Mastercard. "Mastercard Prepaid Payroll Card.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.

  4. North Carolina Department of Labor. “Debit-Payroll Card Payment and Direct Deposit.” Accessed Jan. 21. 2022.

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “If My Employer Offers Me a Payroll Card.” Accessed Jan. 21, 2022.