WASHINGTON¬–Personal-finance guru Suze Orman usually is the one dishing out the tough love. But the moment she put her name on a reloadable prepaid card, she was the one taking it.
The criticism was fierce: it's a conflict of interest and an abuse of her authority as a trusted financial coach, some said. Its fees, though relatively low for a prepaid card, are still predatory because they are unavoidable, others said.
Orman, for her part, joined the conversation passionately and even resorted to name-calling (she quickly apologized for doing so.).
"When people were attacking me about things that just weren't true, … I reacted wrongly," Orman said in an interview after her appearance Jan. 12 at the National Press Club in Washington.
Orman spent as much energy in designing the card, called the Approved card, as she did in defending it, she says.
"I put blood sweat and tears; … we put everything into this card," Orman says. "We built this from the ground up … in the hopes that one day this card will generate a [credit] score and give people an alternative to all the other systems out there."
The credit-building feature stems from a pact with TransUnion LLC, which provides free credit reports to users of Orman's card for a year (see story). Users can volunteer to let TransUnion track their spending and bill-payment data to help those users build a credit history.
Orman vowed at the press club event to continue aggressively promoting the card–and its credit-building function for the underbanked–despite the immediate and harsh criticism she encountered.
And though she apologized for calling at least one critic an "idiot," she still had strong words for those who questioned her motives.
"What really makes this card different is that I've put my name on it, I've put my reputation on it, I've put my intention behind it," she told the audience. "And no financial institution, no blogger, nobody who has anybody's interest at heart but their own is going to stop me."
Talk show host Tavis Smiley and activist Cornel West joined Orman on stage, praising her efforts to combat poverty.
"I want to thank Suze Orman for her courage, for her conviction, for her commitment and for her character," said Smiley. "The financial services industry is hoping that Suze Orman fails in this endeavor … because if Suze Orman succeeds with this Approved card, it's going to fundamentally and radically change the way we do financial business in this country."
A former public housing counselor who said she's been out of work for more than six months even stood up during the Q&A session to thank Orman for her work.
"I want to applaud you for your vision and I will be the first one in line" to get that card, the woman said.
Orman’s card is among various others jockeying to capture a greater share of the prepaid card market (see story).
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