PSCU Financial Services Monday reported strong gains in its Visa-branded reloadable and nonreloadable prepaid debit card programs for 2008 compared with the previous year. The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based credit-union service organization also will begin distributing MasterCard-branded reloadable and nonreloadable prepaid card before the end of the year, Denise Stevens, PSCU director of prepaid services, tells ATM&Debit News, a CardLine sister publication. Last year, PSCU supported more than 100 Visa-branded reloadable prepaid card programs and more than 120 Visa-branded nonreloadable gift card programs for credit-union members, which issue the cards, Stevens says. Those credit unions purchased 465,937 gift cards, up 74% from in 2007, Last year, the average amount consumers loaded into a gift card account was $70, she says. Consumers typically throw gift cards away once they have spent all of the funds. PSCU's credit-union members also sell reloadable travel, student and general-purpose prepaid cards to their members. Loads on reloadable prepaid cards increased 383% last year, to from in 2007, Stevens says. In 2008, consumers loaded an average of $250 on the general-purpose prepaid cards, credit unions' most-popular prepaid card. Stevens attributes the growth of PSCU's program to credit unions either giving their prepaid cards away or charging members nominal fees of $1 to $3 per card. Depending on the credit union's long-term strategy, it may charge its members just $1 to reload the card, Steven says. Retail-store closings also have helped improve sales of Visa-branded gift cards, Stevens says. "[The cards] are gifts, and with the number of retail-store closing, no one wants to give someone a gift card from store that is no longer in business," she says. PSCU supports credit-union members prepaid card programs through marketing and the purchasing large inventories of cards to keep per-card costs down. The members purchase the cards from PSCU when needed. Some 1,100 financial institutions are members of PSCU, and 600 credit unions own the non-profit cooperative.