|Monday, May 20, 2013|
|Monday, May 20, 2013|
Debit Card Debate: Check-Out Line Dilemma Reveals Real Differences
Confused about how to reply when you swipe your debit card in the checkout lane and the clerk asks, "Debit or credit?"
Many people believe the clerk is asking whether you're using a debit card or a credit card to pay for the transaction. But what the clerk really wants to know is how you want to verify your identity.
Understanding the terms
When you use a debit card, some features are the same whether you pick the "credit" or "debit" route. Both transaction amounts are withdrawn from your checking account, the transactions contain fraud protections, and can be tracked using online banking or your monthly statement.
But there are important differences. The first is how you verify your identity at the time of the transaction. Choosing the "debit" option means you plan to prove your identity by submitting a four-number password, commonly known as a personal identification number or PIN.
Choosing the "credit" option means you plan to sign a receipt instead of entering a PIN. You get a copy of the signed receipt.
Paying by PIN is regarded as more secure because it's harder to guess or steal a password than to fake a signature. But paying by signature may be the only option available if the merchant doesn't provide a PIN pad. Paying by signature also protects you from potential fraud if you forget to shield your PIN from a person standing near you.
Each debit card option has unique advantages.
Merchants often encourage consumers to pay with a PIN. Card readers can be programmed to always ask for a PIN, for example, forcing consumers to take a few seconds longer to push a "credit" button or ask the clerk to enable a signature-based transaction.
Some merchants only accept debit cards if used with a PIN. These merchants prefer to have consumers use a debit card and enter a PIN because it lowers their costs when compared with signature-based debit and other forms of payment.
Credit unions prefer signature-based transactions because they earn higher fees when members choose the "credit" option. This allows the credit union to charge lower fees to members, or even to offer debit transactions for free.
Beware of hidden costs
You can be charged fees for either type of purchase. Some merchants charge a fee to consumers who say "credit" when paying with a debit card, while some credit unions and other card issuers charge a fee for some types of transactions or limit the number of free debit card transactions available each month.
Fee policies vary, so protect your pocketbook by carefully reviewing your credit union's rules. If you carry more than one card, bear in mind that credit unions typically charge the lowest fees when compared with other financial institutions.
Merchants often encourage consumers to pay with a PIN.
It's wise to ask merchants about potential fees. You always can choose another payment type--or simply say "no" to a purchase to avoid fees.
Account holds may affect your purchasing power as well. A "hold" is an amount set aside in your account at the merchant's request to cover a pending debit purchase. Signature-based purchases can be held for hours or even days before they are withdrawn from your account, so some gas stations will put a hold of $50 to $75 on your account to make sure their transaction will be paid.
While most holds are removed in minutes, some holds for signature-based purchases may stay in effect for hours or even days, which means you'll have less money available for other debit card purchases.
Each debit card option carries other unique advantages.
Choosing "debit" gives you:
Choosing "credit" gives you:
Test yourselfChoosing between "credit" and "debit" for debit card purchases can be tricky. Test your ability to use your debit card wisely in these simple examples.
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