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Exclusive   Check Card Survey 2007
  STATISTIC: Only seven of 100 banks and thrifts surveyed charge a fee for  
  point-of-sale PIN transactions.  
Check Card Survey 2007

Analysis: Check card fees gone
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Signature-only rewards
With most check cards, points are earned only on signature purchases and aren't earned in specific cases including ATM withdrawals, balance transfers or payments made to prepaid or reloadable cards.

"I guess consumers have shown that they do respond to rewards, even when those rewards are less substantial than on the credit side," Sloane says. "I still believe the primary consumer motivation is better management of their finances. Secondary motivation is the thought that, 'as long as I'm using my debit card, I might as well get something back from that.'"

Regardless of the differences between credit card and check card reward programs, one has to evaluate how one uses them.

"Credit card reward programs only work if you use the rewards and pay off the balance every month," says McBride. "If you do pay off your balance every month, you have no need to use a debit card. You can use the issuer's money until the bill comes and keep your own cash in an interest-earning account."

Equal protection
Another feature of credit cards that has been added to check cards is fraud and loss protection. Discover Card-, Visa- and MasterCard-branded check cards now have the same fraud and loss protections as credit cards. In Bankrate's survey, every bank that offers debit cards provides fraud and loss protection.

The Fair Credit Billing Act and the Electronic Funds Transfer Act provide procedures for consumers to follow if a credit or debit card is lost or stolen.

Under the FCBA, your maximum liability for a stolen credit card is $50.

The EFTA, which covers debit cards, says liability is dependent on how quickly you report the loss or theft. If you report the theft within two business days, you are liable only for $50 in unauthorized use.

If you don't report the loss in two business days, according to the Federal Trade Commission, "you could lose up to $500 because of an unauthorized transfer. You also risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you. That means you could lose all the money in your bank account and the unused portion of your line of credit established for overdrafts."

While the FTC's warnings about losing a check card are dire, the reality may be much less scary. Over the past few years, Discover Card, Visa and MasterCard have extended their zero liability protection to check cards. In effect, check cards now have the same protections as credit cards.

For Visa, offering zero liability "makes sense," says Krattli. "We make sure you have acceptance wherever you shop and make you feel as secure as you can be about your purchase. That's part of our brand promise -- payment options, acceptance, comfort and security for purchases."

-- Posted: Mar. 12, 2007
Next: "PIN versus signature conundrum"
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Beware abusive overdraft protection
Checking Basics: Debit cards
Tips for responsible debit card use
Winners and losers: Certificates of deposit
Winner or loser: Mortgage shopper
Winner or loser: Home equity loans

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