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Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
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Report to the Congress on Government-Administered, General-Use
Prepaid Cards, July 2012



To collect calendar year 2011 data, the Board distributed one survey to government offices and another survey to issuers.15 The Board designed the government survey to gather information regarding prevalence of use of prepaid cards and the issuer survey to gather information on interchange and cardholder fees in connection with prepaid cards. The Board sent the surveys to 158 government offices and 15 issuers.16

In preparing the 2011 surveys, the Board revised the format of and questions in the 2010 surveys for clarity to elicit better quality data and to reduce respondent burden. In the 2011 government survey, the Board continued to ask questions regarding the prevalence of use of prepaid cards, and eliminated questions regarding transaction and fee information that government offices generally do not track. In the 2011 issuer survey, the Board continued to ask questions regarding the number of cards issued, and eliminated questions regarding the number of active accounts. The Board believes that the number of cards issued is easier for issuers to identify than the number of active accounts. The Board more clearly defined and segregated some cardholder fee types used in the 2010 issuer survey, and included additional cardholder fee types that the Board had since identified through discussions with card issuers. Further, the Board included a glossary of terms in both 2011 survey instruments to help respondents better understand what data should be submitted for each question.

The survey approach in 2011 differed from 2010 in a few key ways. The Board contacted government offices directly to request that they respond to the 2011 government survey.17 Also, issuers were required to respond to the 2011 issuer survey, as opposed to the 2010 issuer survey, in which participation was voluntary. In addition, the Board posted both 2011 survey instruments online in a user-friendly format, rather than sending spreadsheet files to respondents.

Of the 158 government offices surveyed, 75 responded.18 Of the 15 issuers surveyed, 12 completed the survey, two indicated they did not disburse payment program funds through prepaid cards during 2011, and one did not respond.19

The number of responses the Board received in 2011 increased significantly from 2010. The Board attributes the increased response to the government survey to the simplified survey instrument and the distribution of the survey directly to government offices. The Board attributes the increased response to the issuer survey to the clarification of the survey instrument, posting the survey online for completion, and making responses mandatory.

The quality of data the Board received in 2011 also improved significantly from the 2010 data. Some government office respondents, however, either did not provide information on all data elements requested in the government survey, or provided information that was otherwise unreliable. For example, data received regarding the number of prepaid cards outstanding by program sometimes appeared to include prepaid cards that were not covered by the scope of the Board's survey, such as cards that remained in inventory. The Board excluded these data from further analyses.

Some issuer respondents were able to provide information only at the aggregate level for all programs for which they served as issuers. Thus, these data were included in the "total" figures in this report, but not in the figures calculated by program or jurisdiction type.

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15. The government and issuer surveys are available online at to text

16. The Board identified issuers to be surveyed by consulting with relevant payment card networks.  Return to text

17. The Board distributed the 2010 government survey to state treasurers, treasurers of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Financial Management Service, believing that treasurers had the knowledge of, and the relationships with, government offices that was necessary to collect, compile, and submit the requested data. Based on the low response rate to and feedback received regarding the 2010 survey, the Board altered its approach for the 2011 survey by directly contacting the government offices believed to use prepaid cards to disburse payment program funds. As a result, the 2011 government survey response rate increased to 47 percent.  Return to text

18. The Board obtained information regarding SNAP that appears in this report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Services website (, rather than from the survey responses.  Return to text

19. The Board reported this bank's lack of response to its primary regulator.  Return to text

Last update: July 25, 2012

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