Walgreen Co.'s new Balance Financial Prepaid MasterCard will be at the core of a series of financial services the retailer plans to offer over the next few months.

"Walgreens has always been a destination for consumers buying prepaid cards, but this is our first private-label prepaid card," says Dan Morrell, assistant treasurer for Walgreen Co.

The new card is a "differentiator" for Walgreens because it provides financial services with a connection to the retailer's current rewards cards and accounts, Morrell says.

Walgreens plans a nationwide rollout of the new card by the end of the year and the incorporation of financial services during 2014. Currently, Walgreens offers Balance Financial in more than 250 Walgreens locations in Detroit, Milwaukee and Nashville. After the rollout, the card and services will be available at more than 8,100 Walgreens and Duane Reade stores.

The new card is a safe alternative to cash for customers who don't have traditional bank accounts or those who want alternatives to debit cards or checking accounts, Morrell says.

Walgreens will provide reloads and no-fee ATM withdrawals at all of its locations in the U.S. states and territories.

At the initial 250 Walgreens stores, cardholders will have check cashing capabilities to deposit payroll, tax refunds and government benefit checks directly to the prepaid account. In addition, consumers can withdraw up to $100 in cash from their card account from a Walgreens cashier.

Walgreens will offer free reloads for cardholders using direct deposit of funds into their Balance Financial accounts.

Customers can link their current Balance Rewards account to the new prepaid card to earn points for purchases, in-store loads on the card, as well as for the first direct deposit put on the card and subsequent monthly deposits.

Walgreens' website, mobile app and in-store kiosks will provide account access and transfer services. Customers can use the card to pay bills online through the Balance Financial website.

Walgreens plans to add Western Union services to the card next year.

Galileo serves as the payment processor for the card transactions, and it helped Walgreens develop the program, Morrell says.

FIS authorizes the check cashing for Walgreens prepaid customers. Bancorp issues the Balance Financial prepaid card and holds the cardholder funds.

Customers interested in the program can simply "take the card off the hook in our store and pay with cash or PIN debit to load money onto it," Morrell says.

The cashier will ask customers if they want their current rewards account linked to the new card, which allows the use of one card to make purchases, earn rewards and have access to the extra services, he adds.

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