RushCard's $19-million settlement: Will customers be satisfied?

The prepaid debit card company is compensating the tens of thousands of users, many of whom are minorities from low-income backgrounds, who were unable to access their money due to a technical glitch. 

For the users who were impacted by RushCard’s multi-day outage last year, a bit of relief may finally be on the way.

RushCard, which is owned by hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, has agreed to pay at least $19 million to compensate the users who were affected. A technical glitch related to RushCard switching payment processors prevented tens of thousands of RushCard customers from accessing their money for as long as two weeks.

The problem first began in October 2015, when RushCard customers began flooding social media with complaints about being unable to withdraw and deposit money. The prepaid card is often marketed to and used by low-income minorities, many of whom don’t have access to bank accounts and often live from paycheck to paycheck. Without access to their money, these RushCard customers were unable to buy food, pay bills, and pay for gas to get to their jobs.

The RushCard was one of the first prepaid debit cards available, letting customers deposit money into an account and then shop using the card. In 2014, Consumer Reports recommended RushCard, but it pulled that recommendation when the card’s technical problems first emerged. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has since launched an investigation into the company.

RushCard critics say prepaid credit cards perpetuate poverty by providing people with an alternative to establishing lifelong credit and sustainable financial habits.

However, Mr. Simmons has maintained that the card fulfills a vital hole in a financial system that leaves low-income minorities at a disadvantage and provides "financial freedom and access long denied to an underserved population." The glitch last fall reignited the debate over whether prepaid cards alleviate that problem or exacerbate it.

One such critic, Ryan Mack, a financial literacy advocate who works on financial education in minority communities, said in October that the RushCard glitch could actually be a blessing for its users. In an video message posted on YouTube, Mr. Mack said that being unable to use the RushCard now allows its former customers to think about being able to build strong financial habits, like establishing a bank account and building credit.

Simmons has repeatedly apologized that his company left so many account holders in a financial lurch. He eventually said that he would create a fund to help those customers most affected.

In the agreement, filed as part of a class-action lawsuit in New York, RushCard is agreeing to pay each user that couldn’t access their funds $100, with the amount increasing to $500 if they can prove they experienced a loss as a result of the outage.

It remains to be seen whether account holders will be satisfied with the settlement.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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