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  • Dear Mr. and Mrs. Staples and the Entire Staples Family,

    Just when I started fearing you had lost track of me and my $35 rebate, earned in mid-August as the lucky purchaser of a fine H-P calculator at an honest price (with rebate), a fat envelope appeared in my postbox with your name on it postmarked Texas.

    In hasty gratitude, I scissored it open immediately to fish out the check, as I had other banking business to attend to and wanted make a quick deposit, but what fell out was a white piece of plastic with a lot of numbers and my name on it and slips of paper covered with printing that was too dense and complicated to bother with right then in my confused state. On closer inspection, I discerned that in one corner of the rounded rectangle it said Rebate Card and in the opposite one DEBIT and VISA, and deduced that somewhere inside my $35 must be secreted.

    You really shouldn’t have gone to all that trouble, you know, of manufacturing a monetary instrument and setting up a bank account for me that you may have to mind for a jolly long time, when cutting a paper check would have turned the trick. Anyway, it is what it is, I decided, and so I turned it over to see if it says what it is, and saw a lot of little words. I looked all over for my reading-glasses and finally found them—I’m too embarrassed to say where—but still had to squint. The little words said: “Prepaid card is issued by MetaBank®, member FDIC, pursuant to a license issued by Visa U.S.A. Inc. Terms and conditions apply to the card. Subject to applicable law, a monthly service fee of $3 (USD) applies but is waived for the first 6 months from original issued date. The card is a prepaid card with no cash access. Each time you use the card, the amount of the transaction will be deducted from the amount of your available balance. No fees will be assessed once the card balance reaches zero.” There you go.

    I must tell you, the part about the service fee frightened me, but I gained my wits by the end of the sentence. And that last sentence is just super. I guess it means I can simply toss away the thing when I’ve all used up the $35 and all will be forgotten. End of my worries.

    Or will it be? Will my account with MetaBank (whoever they are) be discarded too or will it remain frozen in time for those pesky credit agencies to mull over? If I leave so much as a penny on it when I’m done will service fees start to accumulate? If I call your handy 800 number to close the thing out, will you charge me for the convenience? Oh, and why can’t I take it to an ATM and simply get cash to spend? That’s what I would do with a check. What I expected would be so easy turned out hard.

    Let me give you a little word of advice, if you don’t mind. It was only the other week that the head of the Wells Fargo Bank got into a whole lot of trouble with the Government for providing his customers with debit cards they didn’t request. Apparently lots of them, and their new owners had to pay monthly fees and some went into arrears and got in trouble with their credit scores that those pesky agencies keep track of. It seems that Mr. Wells Fargo has gotten the entire Wells Fargo family into a pickle that has already done a lot of them in. Well, Mr. and Mrs. Staples, I don’t want to see that happen to you. So, why not stay out of the sights of attorneys general and pesky bureaucrats—those so-called regulators—and avoid extra bookkeeping by sending out checks from now on to customers who earn your generous rebate sums rather than fussing with those plastic jobs. Wouldn’t that be easier?

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