If there is any chance that Justin Bieber’s alleged marijuana use will delay the release of his soon-to-debut contribution to the prepaid debit card market, I will personally thank the powers-that-be at the TMZ for publishing pictures of the teen heartthrob smoking what they say they suspect is the still-illegal weed earlier this week.
To review: The financial services company BillMyParents.com announced an endorsement deal with Bieber, 18, late last fall. The teen heartthrob, who has 48 million followers on Facebook as well as 30 million on Twitter, will, in addition to fronting for the card, act as an ambassador for the concept of financial literacy, filming videos “promoting responsible spending among teens,” as the press release publicizing the new financial product put it.
I have to confess the idea of a company called BillMyParents.com “promoting responsible spending” and financial literacy is the sort of thing I suspect only someone who doesn’t get why the term “jumbo shrimp” is an oxymoron could dream up. However, I can personally guarantee my 13-year-old son would find the idea of billing his parents for his wants and needs quite appealing indeed.
But I digress.
On first read, the future Justin Bieber card strikes me as yet another cynical use of the term “financial literacy” to promote a less than needed product. According to published reports, users will pay $3.95 a month for the privilege of owning and using the card, and an additional $1.50 every time they need to swipe in an ATM machine. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly financially literate use of one’s funds.
Prepaid cards, if their fee structures are reasonable, are a decent choice for the unbanked, that is those consumers who don’t believe they earn enough money to pay the fees associated with a traditional bank account and, as a result, don’t have one. However, the under-18 crowd that makes up Bieber’s fan base are not unbanked, at least the way the term is traditionally used.
True, teens and tweens all-too-frequently lack a bank account. But unlike low-income consumers, they are not looking for an easy way to pay utility and rent bills. Their expenses are more likely to consist of nights out the movies, and, maybe, handing over some funds – funds, I must add, that might well have received in the form of an allowance or as payment for chores done around the home — to mom and dad to cover their share of the family Smartphone plan.
You don’t need to share Dave Ramsey’s pro-cash stance to understand that, in this sort of situation, paper money is likely the best way to go. Our teens and tweens, after all, do not need to become acclimated to the idea of paying $3.95 a month for the privilege of accessing their own money. Perhaps Bieber’s financial literacy videos for BillMyParents.com can highlight that fact.