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Debit cards on the rise

By   /   Friday, February 20th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Debit cards on the rise

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As the economy nosedives and the credit crunch continues, more consumers are whipping out their debit cards at the register.

Instead of using cash, checks and credit cards, area retailers report an increased use in debit cards, which allow customers to access their checking or bank deposit accounts directly. Cashiers at regional Longs, Starbucks, Ralphs and Borders locations all noticed a spike in debit transactions in recent months.

“Debit has gotten pretty popular lately, and there have been a lot of gift certificates too,” said Jessica Scott, a Starbucks manager in Atascadero. “I think people have switched from credit because it’s easier to keep track of yourself.”

Customers confirmed that debit cards help control their spending. Because debit cards are linked directly to their accounts, customers can only spend what they already have in the bank.

“I live by my debit card,” said Deborah Smith, a customer at Longs in Santa Barbara. “It’s great because you don’t have to worry about paying off a credit card every month; you just make sure there’s money in your account and you’re good to go.”

Margot Mohsberg of the American Banking Association said consumers like debit cards “because they’re easier to use than checks, safer than cash, and free of interest rate charges.”

She said another high point is that debit cards are accepted at locations worldwide, while many merchants are reluctant to accept nonlocal checks. Debit also eliminates the need to show identification or give out personal information at the checkout counter, and security features built into debit cards help merchants verify that the actual cardholder is the one using the card.

Visa reported that debit card use far outpaced that of credit cards in 2008. The company did $20.5 billion in debit payment transactions, but only $9.3 billion in credit.

“In most signature-based Visa and MasterCard debit transactions, there is zero liability for unauthorized card use,” Mohsberg said. “If a personal identification number is used, you can request cash back at most stores. The merchant will add the cash amount to your transaction total, and you’ll have cash in hand without having to make a trip to the bank or an ATM.”

Debit cards are accepted at locations worldwide, while many merchants are reluctant to accept nonlocal checks. Debit also eliminates the need to show identification or provide personal information at the checkout counter.

A MasterCard consumer survey found that debit cards are the most popular payment method for $20-$100 purchases, and are used most frequently at grocery stores, gas stations and department stores.

More consumers also are using debit for recurring payments, such as bills that are automatically deducted, MasterCard said, with 26 percent of households linking monthly payments to debit card accounts. By 2009, the number of households with debit cards is expected to reach 73 percent.

Although recent media attention has been focused on the hazards of debit card theft, Mohsberg said it’s still a safe way to transfer money.

“If you are a victim of debit card fraud, your bank will always protect you by crediting your account,” she said. “If necessary, they will give you provisional credit to cover your loss while they are investigating.”

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