And in the last three years, some universities started distributing financial aid refunds to students via prepaid student IDs.
Several companies have rolled out prepaid student ID cards in 2011. Here's an outline of their features and fees.
New prepaid student ID cards
On April 27, SunTrust launched its SunTrust Campus Card, which is a MasterCard reloadable prepaid card that also serves as a college student ID. With the SunTrust Campus Card, students can make purchases anywhere MasterCard is accepted and withdraw cash fee-free at SunTrust ATMs.
Parents and students can add funds to the card online, and participating colleges and universities will be able to load financial aid disbursements directly onto the cards, if desired.
In November, American Express followed suit with the launch of its first prepaid campus ID card with the University of North Florida.
The Osprey 1Card prepaid campus ID card offered by American Express allows students to make purchases anywhere American Express is accepted, including online retailers. It has two magnetic stripes -- one for campus use and one for American Express transactions.
Once students register their prepaid student ID with American Express, they can add money to the card from a bank account or through a Green Dot MoneyPak, a service that allows customers to add money to a prepaid card or PayPal account without using a bank account. Students using a MoneyPak to load cash onto their prepaid cards pay a purchase fee of up to $4.95.
American Express provides one free ATM withdrawal per calendar month with the card. After that, a $2 fee is assessed for each additional ATM withdrawal.
If a prepaid student ID card is lost or stolen, American Express will replace the card's prepaid balance.
But be aware -- a college or university may charge anywhere from $10 to $25 to replace a student ID, says Lent.
Another card -- the Discover Campus Card -- allows college students to load it with their financial aid balances, work-study funds, student payroll or other funds. Students can make purchases anywhere Discover is accepted, get cash from ATMs and add money to the card from a bank account.
With the Discover Campus Card, students can make free ATM withdrawals at participating on-campus ATMs and at Allpoint Network ATMs. If a student withdraws cash from the card with another network's ATM, a $2.50 card fee applies.
If a Discover Campus card is inactive for nine consecutive months, a $3.50 monthly maintenance fee is applied.