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Advocates Question Justin Bieber’s Prepaid Debit Card Endorsement

ABC/RANDY HOLMES(NEW YORK) -- Justin Bieber has been named a spokesman for a prepaid debit card company, raising eyebrows among some consumer advocates who caution against fees associated with the products.

SpendSmart Payments Co., based in San Diego, announced on Friday that the pop star will be a brand ambassador, headlining a series called “Real Talk.” The company says its SpendSmart prepaid card aims to educate families and teenagers about responsible spending habits. It also allows parents to monitor real-time spending online.

Bieber’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

“You know when I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money, so me and my family had to watch the money that we spent,” Bieber explains in a video. “I learned if you have $100 or $100 million, if you spend more than you have, you’re going to go broke.”

Bieber is far from broke now, however. He earned $55 million in the year ending May 2012, Forbes reported. And Bieber is earning $3.75 million for a 14-month contract, plus potential monthly royalties tied to the growth of active SpendSmart cards, according to SEC documents, the New York Times reported.

The deal includes stock options to buy 2 million shares of SpendSmart stock, which was trading around 40 cents a share Friday.

SpendSmart said it won’t comment on the specifics of the deal.

Consumer Reports urged caution related to prepaid cards for exorbitant fees in a report published last year. Among 15 prepaid cards analyzed by Consumer Reports, 14 charged for ATM withdrawals, 13 charged monthly fees from $2.95 to $9.95, while five charged for inactive periods.

Mike McCoy, CEO of the SpendSmart Payments Company defended the card, saying the SpendSmart Prepaid Card gives teens “freedom and independence while also teaching them the fundamentals of  financial responsibility.”

“More importantly, the SpendSmart Card gives parents control over their teens spending habits, supporting them in instilling valuable financial literacy fundamentals,” he said.

Other features include the ability to lock the card from your mobile device and block inappropriate spending as well as many other tools that families can feel safer with, he said.

SpendSmart fees include a monthly fee of $3.95, loading fees of $2.95 from a credit card or 75 cents from a checking account. A single scheduled monthly automatic payment from a checking account is free.

To withdraw from an ATM, there is a fee of $1.50 plus ATM surcharges. For an ATM balance inquiry, it costs 50 cents. SpendSmart charges $3 for 30 days of inactivity.

“Most fees are avoidable and no fees have been changed in light of our partnership with Justin Bieber,” McCoy said. “For the last three years this is and has been available as a prepaid card and not a celebrity card. We’re confident in Justin Bieber’s ability to be an ambassador for our brand, and in his ability to help his generation and their parents talk about responsible spending.”

Michelle Jun, a lawyer with Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, told the New York Times, “We would not recommend that parents use prepaid cards for their teens. It doesn’t help your teen establish a credit history or a relationship with a financial institution, so we recommend going the traditional route and opening up a checking account at your bank or credit union of choice.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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