CHICAGO (CBS) — They look like credit cards and act like debit cards, but they’re something else – prepaid debit cards – and they’re a big hit with college-bound teens.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker takes a look at how they work and if they’re worth it.

It’s almost a rite of passage for college students – having that first piece of plastic, gaining some control over when and where they spend their money.

Until now, students like Columbia College sophomore Jordan Tucker could only choose between credit or debit cards, but the plastic Jordan uses to pay for his water is a Totalpay prepaid debit card.

“I think prepaid cards are pretty cool,” he said.

Jordan’s mother, Brenda, chose the prepaid card. She didn’t want Jordan to have a credit card and risk racking up interest charges or late fees. She’s also opposed to opening a checking account for her son.

“You know, it’s my money,” she said. “I kind of want to have a say so as to where my money goes.”

So Brenda puts $100 a month on Jordan’s card.

“You know, cash in, cash out. There’s no worry,” Brenda said.

But access to the cash can cost you.

First, you have to buy the card.

Wal-Mart has a money card that costs $3, but many cards cost $4.95. And some cards charge a monthly fee that can range from $3 to $10.

Charges for reloading the card will cost you 4.95. You might also have to pay a fee of $2 to $3 to withdraw cash from an ATM. Tack on another $1 to check your balance.

“Those fees can add up as well,” said Edward Sanchez, President of Money Sharp, Inc.

Sanchez said some cards will eliminate the monthly fee, if you have a direct deposit from your paycheck.

You also can save on ATM charges by asking for cash back with a purchase.

And you can skip the reload fee by transferring money from your checking account.

“You can really shop a lot of cards because they are competing for your business,” Sanchez said.

Brenda manages to avoid most of the fees with online transfers and making sure Jordan boycotts ATMs. She said the biggest advantage of the card is money management.

“I’ve learned about the things you want and the things you need and the things you need come first,” Jordan said.

You also should make sure you read all the fine print when you buy a prepaid card. You’re required to register some cards and you probably have to pay a fee to replace a lost or stolen card.

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