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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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Despite the coverage, McBride has a caveat for consumers. "While many debit card issuers offer the same protection against fraud as that of credit cards, it still means closing the barn door after the horse is already out. It may take some time to restore the funds to the account, unlike a credit card where the cardholder can withhold payment on any fraudulent purchases."

Sloane also advises consumers to find out how their bank processes debit transactions.

"Visa has extended zero liability, but the banks have to agree. A transaction must go through the Visa or other network in order to be covered. You have to ask your bank whether zero liability applies to that debit card. Otherwise, they'll say you're exposed to the FTC rules. What is not discussed much is how long it takes to get the money back into the checking account rather than credit back."

How to get money back
So what happens if a cardholder has a problem and wants her money back?

"The process varies by issuer," Krattli says. "Call the bank, let them know there's a discrepancy -- that they didn't receive what they ordered, didn't like it, etc. A customer service representative will talk them through some of the steps that will be taken. In most cases, they get the money back in their checking account within five business days."

Sloane thinks consumer concern about loss will continue to push the debit card business. "Zero liability hasn't worked itself all the way out on the debit side, and the next phase will be offers of recovery. A bank will say, 'We'll help you recover accounts.' Maybe five years from now the banks will offer some kind of insurance policy for the best customers."

PIN versus signature conundrum
As for which method of check card use -- PIN or signature -- is most secure, consumers are bit schizophrenic. According to a STAR/First Data study in 2005, 47 percent of consumers preferred PIN debit because they felt it was more secure. But the December 2005 issue of the "Chicago Fed Letter," published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, noted that "Cardholders perform twice as many signature-based debit transactions as PIN-based debit transactions. Cardholders in the United States performed 10.3 billion signature-based transactions and 5.3 billion PIN-based transactions in 2003."

And with all that activity, only 20 percent of those surveyed in the STAR/First Data study were aware that their check cards have the same zero liability coverage as their credit cards

"While debit cards offer much in the way of convenience, with equal protection against fraud and loss, they don't appeal equally to everyone," says McBride. "Consumers who always pay their credit card balances in full will find that a rebate credit card is far more attractive than a debit card due to the higher rewards and additional float time on the money."

The Bankrate Check Card Survey was conducted in January 2007. The top five banks and top five thrifts in the top 10 markets were asked about their check cards, fees associated with cards, reward programs and fraud and loss protection. These 100 banks are the same group that Bankrate surveys regularly to compile the National Index.

Check card use will continue to grow because consumers find them an efficient way to manage money. Nevertheless, there are still a few aspects such as daily usage limits, overdraft risk and blocking that need to be considered. For an explanation and tips on those items, read "Check card problems to watch for."

-- Posted: Mar. 12, 2007
Next article >>
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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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