Last week, thousands of Russell Simmons’ RushCard users were locked out of their accounts, and left without access to their funds. The problem persists today, and users are starting to get desperate.
RushCard is a prepaid credit card billed as a way for the millions of un- or under-banked Americans —those who don't use banks or rely on other financial institutions—to have access their money without relying on cash, and without paying prohibitive banking fees. An added service offered by RushCard is the option to access and use wages two days prior to payday.
For many RushCard customers, these cards are their sole source of accessing their money. And because low-income Americans are the more likely to be unbanked than their wealthier counterparts, RushCard customers are more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck. A frozen account has direct ramifications—money that would go toward buying food, gas, or paying rent is unavailable.
A Pew report found that in 2012, roughly 12 million Americans used prepaid pay cards like RushCard at least once a month.
The issues reportedly began last Monday. In a Facebook post, RushCard explained, "Our scheduled maintenance is running longer than anticipated." Messages posted throughout the day made the issue seem minor, reassuring customers that, "you can now resume use of your RushCard for purchases and ATM transactions, as well as to load money at the register," but adding, "we are still working to get access to your online account and mobile app back up and running." Simmons issued a brief statement that day apologizing for the inconvenience.
By Tuesday, the issue was still not resolved. And in a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Simmons personally apologized for the error, which he says was caused by a technical glitch.
"In the process of upgrading and improving our RushCard services, many of you are hurt by problems that occurred during a technology transition," Simmons said, adding, "I want to personally reassure you that funds you are safe, and that we are addressing every issue as quickly as possible."
Simmons laid out the company's recovery plan:
As I speak, we are processing all direct deposits that we received by 11 p.m. last night. We are correcting account balances and problems with cardholder access as fast as we can, but this may take up to a few days for the affected customers. We are identifying customers who are affected, and beginning to reach out to all those impacted.
Because of the glitch, Simmons said, customers won't be able to use the service until RushCard's problems are resolved.
Today, RushCard said it's aware that replacement cards—issued for a reprieve while the company continues to sort out whatever's going on—aren't working:
In an emailed statement, a company representative said that, "at this time, our system is up and running and we are processing deposits and transactions," but added, "a small number of accounts are still in an inactive state."
And Simmons' apologies haven't always been the most tactful:
The glitch has wreaked havoc for RushCard users. One customer wrote on Facebook, "My bills are due… my son is without his meds… and we are hungry… please tell me something I'm sick of calling all of these numbers and getting hung up on." Several people posted in reply that they've also been hung up on by customer service agents.
Another RushCard user wrote today, "i haven't been able to access my account since last Monday… my Bill's are due and my family has no money because of a so called glitch." Someone else claimed to have not received his paycheck two days after it was issued.
People are also posting complaints to ConsumerAffairs.com.
RushCard has been criticized for charging high fees and making false promises in the past. The card is billed as a way for un- and underbanked Americans to build credit, and access their money quickly. Simmons defended the venture back in 2009, writing in the New York Times:
The RushCard helps struggling Americans who find themselves without access to bank accounts or credit. They have to tackle difficult and expensive obstacles every day when they need to pay their bills. When they go to a check cashing place they are forced to pay a huge fee just to get their money and pay fees. Typically, 10% of their paycheck goes to these fees and they spend 8 to 10 hours a week to go pay bills in person. They cannot pay bills without standing in line, and it’s difficult for them to rent a car or shop online… We’ve built many innovative tools to help people save money. Over half of the RushCard members who use these tools say they save more than $300 a year. 30% say they’re saving $600/year. We’re constantly adding new features to help people.
But claims that high, hidden fees prey on poor users have continued. This recent disaster has also called attention to the fact that RushCard users waive the right to sue in cases such as this one:
Users can take action against the company in other ways, however, like filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
— Aminatou Sow (@aminatou) October 19, 2015
This post has been updated to include comment from RushCard.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.