Justin Bieber, teen idol with a following of 48 million Facebook fans, and a Twitter army 30 million strong, has entered into a partnership with BillMyParents to promote a new debit card called the SpendSmart prepaid card, ostensibly to teach teens good spending and saving habits.

In a brief 58-second video called Real Talk, Bieber discusses how he didn’t have much money as a kid, and the lessons he learned from his family about managing money. He then goes on to direct viewers to the SpendSmart site where teens and their parents can find out more about the SpendSmart card, promoted as a tool to teach young people to manage their money.

The SpendSmart Payments Company, based in San Diego, states that its SpendSmart prepaid card aims to educate families and teenagers about responsible spending habits. It also allows parents to monitor real-time spending online. According to the New York Times, the average age of a SpendSmart user is 16, and the card is most often used to purchase fast food, gas, gadgets, and clothes.

Some points that Bieber omits to mention in his video:

The card has a monthly fee of $3.95
A loading charge of $2.95 from a debit or credit card
A charge of $.75 to load from a checking or savings account.
A replacement fee of $7.95
An ATM charge of $0.50 per balance inquiry
A withdrawal charge of $1.50 each time the card is used for a purchase
Also, if the card is inactive for 90 days, there is a $3 inactivity charge

According to ABC News, Mike McCoy, CEO of the SpendSmart Payments Company defended the card, saying the SpendSmart Prepaid Card gives teens “freedom and independence while also teaching them the fundamentals of financial responsibility.”And of course, the SpendSmart Card gives parents control over teens spending habits, “supporting them in instilling valuable financial literacy fundamentals.” However, SpendSmart and other similar cards have been criticized by consumer groups for charging the sort of high fees listed above.

Why do they charge such high fees? Because they can.

As industry regulators crack down on credit cards for their rocketing interest rates and high fees, the prepaid market is largely unregulated, making it a new profit center for the banks. Currently, there are few government regulations or consumer protections that apply to prepaid cards. However, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now investigating the fees and practices of prepaid card providers.

As a related issue, some employers have been using prepaid cards to pay their employees rather than by check or direct deposit. A former McDonalds worker has filed a lawsuit against McDonalds for that practice. You can read that article from the New York Times here.
(http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/mcdonald-owners-sued-wage-debit-card-article-1.1375287)

But back to Beibs—his take for promoting SpendSmart is $3.75 million for a 14 month contract, plus royalties, plus stock options. Justin Beiber—financial folk hero, or industry shill? You decide.