Payroll Cards

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid

How are you paid?

Most workers get paid by check or by direct deposit. Some specialized workers, such as waiters, may get some of their payment in cash. An increasing trend, is for workers to be paid by payroll card.

  • A payroll card is a card that looks like a debit card.
  • Every pay period an employer will load up the card with a worker’s wages.
  • Once the worker’s pay is on the card, the worker may use an ATM to take out cash.

This sounds convenient, but unfortunately, it often isn’t.

  • First, a worker has to go to an ATM to get any cash off the payroll card.
  • Second, there are hidden charges.
    • Getting an account balance on one of these payroll cards may cost $2 or $3.
    • If an employee wants a paper statement, that can cost another $3.
    • Replacing a card costs almost $20.
    • It may cost extra to exceed a certain number of ATM withdrawals (usually one or two withdrawals) per pay period.
    • With a regular debit card, or for workers who are paid in more typical ways, all these services are usually free.
  • Third, workers who are paid by payroll card may have their personal information sold to other businesses.

You might be thinking, “That doesn’t sound worth it. I’ll just choose to be paid by direct deposit or by check instead.” 

  • Unfortunately, some employers are requiring their workers to be paid by payroll card.
  • The kinds of employers doing this are usually employers who pay the minimum wage.
  • Their employees can least afford the extra costs of being paid by payroll cards.

Payroll cards are relatively new but there are federal rules that say employers who offer payroll cards must also have other options for employees to get paid. 

  • While other states have laws in place to protect employees, Iowa does not have a law that addresses whether employers are allowed to use payroll cards.

If you are having an issue with how you get paid at work, you can contact Iowa Legal Aid for advice.

  • You can also contact the Iowa Attorney General if your employer forces you to get paid by payroll card. Inside Polk County, the number is (515) 281-5926. Outside Polk County, the number is 1-888-777-4590. You may also contact the Attorney General’s office online by going to or emailing the Consumer Protection Division at 
  • Iowa Workforce Development Division of Labor Services may be able to assist you in recovering any wages you lost, if you submit a wage claim through their website at
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Nov 29, 2022
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