First, Justin Bieber was named “Best Celebrity Financial Strategist” of 2012.
Then came the announcement that Bieber was promoting a new prepaid-debit card in partnership with BillMyParents.com — which claims to be promoting responsible teen-spending habits — and that he would use his social-media power of 48 million Facebook fans and 30 million Twitter followers to promote it.
It’s not the first or worst case of a celebrity endorsing a financial product, but it illustrates the disconnect between fame and financial acumen as well as any.
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And while these deals are increasingly common, the hope is that the public recognizes that celebrities are not financial role models.
Sure, Justin Bieber now has a net worth in excess of $110 million, according to most sources, having grossed about that much in the last two years alone, and GoBankingRates.com gave him their “best strategist” prize on the basis of shallow analysis of his published comments and visible habits.
But the truth is that while Bieber is known for being in touch with his fan base, he could not be more removed financially from the world of the kids the card is targeting.
This is not some celebrity hyping fashion, or their latest haircut; prepaid-debit cards are about spending and saving money — and for teenagers teaching they can be about developing good money habits — and the young crooner isn’t your typical teen on that front.
In fact, Bieber needs a prepaid-debit card like a moose needs a hat rack. The sponsor of the card, after all, is BillMyParents.com — something Bieber probably hasn’t done since puberty.
To borrow from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”
Despite all of his efforts to interact with his fan base, here’s how different Bieber is from his Facebook and Twitter followers. At over $50 million a year in income, a $250,000 house would make less impact on Bieber’s finances than the cost of two tickets to one of his concerts would to the median American, whose income is just over $26,000.
According to a variety of sites that calculate the feels-like effect, dropping a quarter-mil would feel to Bieber like the median American feels when spending about 130 bucks. Now make Bieber a bit more like the teenager he is, and consider that to him, buying a $425 smartphone would feel like spending two bits, and a top-of-the-line laptop would seem to him like, maybe, 50 cents.
That, by itself, doesn’t make his debit card a bad deal. In fact, compared to others — and especially bad deals like the short-lived Kardashian Kard — terms on the Bieber prepaid-debit card aren’t terrible.
The monthly fee of $3.95 is kind of high, but the loading charges ($2.95 from a debit or credit card; $0.75 from a checking or savings account) are in line with the industry, and most of the other fees (50 cents per balance inquiry at an ATM, $1.50 per withdrawal, an inactivity fee of $3 if the card goes unused for 90 days, and more) are at or slightly above industry norms.
There’s the very real potential for Bieber’s card to be gone soon, which would be good for the world, but not great for anyone who plunks down cash to get involved.
The real problem is that while finances are highly personal, celebrity is completely impersonal — and these cards send completely the wrong message.
Want to teach children about financial responsibility while monitoring their spending and more?
Fine, a prepaid-debit card might do it, but the celebrity tie-in encourages the child to pull out the card and use it as much as possible, so that they get the perceived “social status” that comes with the card. The responsible lesson involves using the card appropriately, and as little as possible without the means to replenish the supporting funds.
Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist for MarketWatch. He can be reached at email@example.com or at P.O. Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.
Copyright, 2013, MarketWatch