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MasterCard expanding Western Union prepaid program

People walk outside a Western Union branch in New York
People walk outside a Western Union branch in New York

(Reuters) - MasterCard Inc plans to start offering prepaid debit cards at Western Union Co locations outside the United States, expanding an offering only available domestically until now, company executives said on Tuesday.

The move is the latest push by a large U.S. payment processor to expand into prepaid cards, in an attempt to boost revenues from processing smaller dollar transactions.

In June, rival American Express Co announced plans to sell a prepaid card online.

Prepaid cards are exempt from new U.S. rules that limit the processing fees that card companies can charge merchants.

The cards allow consumers to load a card with cash at any one of Western Union's 485,000 agent locations around the world. And Western Union customers can also load money onto a prepaid card, instead of sending cash.

The money on the card can be spent anywhere that accepts MasterCards.

MasterCard -- through Western Union -- has offered U.S. prepaid cards for the last year, and has issued 1.2 million cards so far, executives said.

MasterCard Chief Executive Ajay Banga and Western Union CEO Hekmet Ersek declined to discuss how many cards they expected to issue worldwide within the next year.

Banga said, however, the total would be "orders of magnitude" higher than the U.S. total so far.

(Reporting by Joe Rauch in Charlotte, North Carolina, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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