Guru.com, an online marketplace for freelancers, is promoting its prepaid payroll card to people who live outside the United States.

Freelancer workers often complain that getting paid can take weeks, or sometimes months, and living abroad complicates the problem even more. Guru, a Pittsburgh company, said its users demanded that the company follow some competitors' lead and offer a prepaid debit card as a payment option.

It worked with the prepaid card marketer Payoneer Inc. to develop the Guru.com prepaid MasterCard, which was announced in March, and is now pushing it especially for clients who need to receive payments outside this country.

Payoneer's chief executive, Yuval Tal, said the need for such a service "is immense." "Delivering payments to" freelancers, especially cross-border payments, "has never been properly established," he said.

Payoneer also supplies prepaid cards for similar companies, including the online image company iStockphoto LP and 2Checkout.com, an authorized reseller for online retailers. Tal estimated that about 2,000 companies specialize in connecting companies to freelancers.

Meta Financial Group Inc.'s MetaBank unit issues the cards, and i2c Inc. processes the transactions.

Guru uses a two-step process to route funds from companies to freelancers through its SafePay payment gateway, according to Guru spokeswoman Kristen Sabol.

"SafePay essentially acts as a neutral, protected third party in the payment process," Sabol wrote in an e-mail. Employers pay Guru, which then distributes the funds to freelancers. SafePay also does the invoicing and escrow services to hold freelancers' funds.

Freelancers can gain access to these funds through direct deposit, prepaid card or PayPal Inc.'s online payment service. They can also transfer the money to another account or request a check or wire transfer.

"We had thought about" offering a prepaid card "a long time ago, but we didn't take up the option because we have other options to get paid," said Stacy Norman, Guru's manager of user support and operations.

Direct deposit is the most popular option, she said, but most freelancers outside the United States prefer checks or wire transfers.

However, Guru and its freelance users had problems with checks and wire transfers. Checks are sometimes stolen en route, and wire transfers can be expensive.

Initiating a wire transfer often costs $10 to $25, said Talia Mendeson, Payoneer's vice president of business development, and receiving banks sometimes charge a fee as well.

"We've heard stories of banks charging as much as $35 just to get the money," Norman said.

As of June 15, 350 Guru users had the prepaid card and had loaded $275,000 into their card accounts, according to Norman. Guru sends payment files to Payoneer every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If a freelancer requests funds from his SafePay account on a Tuesday, the money will be loaded into the prepaid card account by Wednesday afternoon, she said.

Payoneer's card fees vary by location. Cardholders in the United States pay a $5 activation fee and $1.35 per automated teller machine withdrawal. Outside the country, users pay a $10 activation fee, up to 3% of the sale for a purchase and $2.15 plus up to 3% of the withdrawal amount for an ATM transaction. Payoneer says the percentages are based on foreign exchange rates.

Tal said Payoneer has issued the cards in 50 countries but that more than half are in the United States.

Freelancers abroad tend to use the the cards for everyday spending. "It's a status symbol to have a card" in some foreign counties, he said. "You get a very high adoption rate for this because in many cases it's the first card they've ever had."

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