Card may be a step toward recovery for addicts
It blocks some transactions so it can't help bad habits re-emerge
Three businessmen who dug themselves into addiction with credit cards have invented one to help addicts dig their way out.
The new Next Step Prepaid MasterCard alone won't kill the craving for alcohol, drugs, gambling, shopping or other addictions, but its designers say it can help keep a recovering addict from backsliding into bad habits.
The card comes with customizable controls that block transactions at ATMs, liquor stores, bars, casinos, escort services, tattoo parlors, piercing salons and other dens of temptation. Co-signers on the card, typically a parent, family member or rehab sponsor, can set daily spending limits and maximum monthly transactions, as well as monitor the card's use online. Its founders say the card will be available at nextstepcard.com by the end of September 2012. (Editor's note: The cards became available in December 2012.)
The Next Step Card isn't cheap. In fact, the $9.95 purchase price and $14.95 monthly maintenance fee are well on the high side as prepaid cards go.
But the trio of recovering addicts who invented it says that's a small price to pay to keep the newly clean away from the addict's No. 1 gateway drug: cash.
Former New York real estate broker Eric Dresdale, New York restaurateur Louis Fisher and Los Angeles marketing pro Ryan Jaffe became friends while recovering from alcohol and pill addiction in Delray Beach, Fla. Each learned firsthand that easy access to cash was the quickest route from detox to re-tox, especially early in recovery.
Gift cards, a common go-to payment choice in rehab, are easily traded for cash. Traditional credit and debit cards are rarely used because they place no restriction on what the user can purchase.
The Next Step Card introduces a payment alternative that combines the convenience of gift cards with restrictions rarely seen on credit or debit cards to help recovering addicts avoid a stumble.
"The basic idea was modeled after those meal plan cards they have in college," Dresdale recalls. "We eventually discovered that a prepaid debit card would give us the ability to incorporate all of these tools and functions to promote healthy spending and help these cardholders stay away from impulsive spending."
It wasn't an easy sell because the truth is, there really hasn't been a card to date with this many restrictions and this many tools.
|-- Ryan Jaffee
Next Step Card co-creator
Not an easy sell
Jaffe admits it was daunting at first to approach card giant MasterCard with the idea.
"It wasn't an easy sell because the truth is, there really hasn't been a card to date with this many restrictions and this many tools," he says.
To make their climb even steeper, the trio created Next Step strictly as a transitional card -- that is, a card designed to wean its own users. If a card company likes anything less than restricting purchases, it's losing customers.
"Obviously, from a business standpoint, it would be great (to keep customers), but having been in recovery and understanding the importance of being self-supporting, we want you to get away from this card," says Jaffe. "We don't want you to be on this card for a year. Go get a job. Get your life back together."
Reaction to the Next Step Card has been mixed. Those who work with addiction say that while keeping the newly recovered on a short leash may curb the kind of binge spending that can land them back in rehab, where there's a will -- or a card -- there's always a way to score. Others point out that the card's effectiveness largely depends on how retailers categorize their business among the hundreds of classifications offered by MasterCard.
My primary objection to this is, you're infantilizing the person. It doesn't help them feel responsible for themselves.
|-- Jerrold Mundis
Jerrold Mundis, author of "How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously," says the card sends mixed messages. "My primary objection to this is, you're infantilizing the person. It doesn't help them feel responsible for themselves." he says. "A card could also be associative in the same way that near-beer or nonalcoholic wine would be for a recovering alcoholic."
But April Benson, a psychologist who specializes in treating shopping addiction, says Next Step Card could be effective for some patients, though likely not hers.
"For people like alcoholics or gamblers, it's a good thing because it really limits purchasing what gets you into trouble," she says. "But for a shopaholic, how do you limit the venues related to buying clothing, jewelry and accessories?"
While the card is designed to help recovering addicts regain control of their lives, Dresdale says it can also help loved ones and families become part of the solution instead of the problem.
"The goal of Next Step is not to promote enabling; it's to set boundaries with that enabling," he says. "We encourage families to set these budgets and not reload the card if the recovering addict spends more than was originally allotted them."
The Next Step team says it has received numerous inquiries from recovery residences and treatment facilities -- a good sign from an all-important target market they hope will use and recommend the card as a valuable transitional tool.
"The reception has been amazing," says Jaffe. "We know we're doing the right thing with this, that's the beautiful thing. It's not just about business; it's helping these individuals move forward with their lives."See related: The high cost of descending into drug-related debt, The cost of rehab
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