BancorpSouth in Tupelo, Miss., is rolling out a prepaid debt card.

The $13.2 billion-asset company said Jan. 8 it has joined with prepaid card manager TransCard to offer a MasterCard prepaid debit card as an alternative to traditional checking accounts.

Derek Caswell, BancorpSouth's head of retail banking, said in a news release the card "allows customers that cannot get approved for a checking account to establish a relationship with the bank."

Caswell added that the card, which carries no minimum balance or overdraft fees, offers an alternative for students, shoppers and travelers, who "can shop without the risk of someone gaining access to their account information and committing account fraud or identity theft."

BancorpSouth is offering the program through the American Bankers Association's Community Bank Prepaid Program, which aims to make the prepaid card market easy for community banks to tap.

The reloadable card, which costs $5 to set up and $4 a month thereafter, can hold up to $5,000 and accepts direct deposits of paychecks and federal benefits. The card carries no fee for purchases. Overdrawing the account at an ATM in the U.S. costs customers $1 each time it happens.

"We are very pleased that BancorpSouth has joined the almost 90 banks in the program," Craig Fuller, chief executive of TransCard, said in a news release.

As prepaid cards become more mainstream, issuers are aiming to forge long-term relationships with customers. Though the life span of prepaid cards tends to run less than six months, according to a study in August by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, revenue from the cards tends to multiply the longer customers use them.

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