Debit Card

A debit card is an ISO 7810 card which physically resembles a credit card, and, like a credit card, is used as an alternative to cash when making purchases. However, when purchases are made with a debit card, the funds are withdrawn directly from the purchaser's current/checking or savings account at a bank.

Debit Card

A debit card is an ISO 7810 card which physically resembles a credit card, and, like a credit card, is used as an alternative to cash when making purchases. However, when purchases are made with a debit card, the funds are withdrawn directly from the purchaser's current/checking or savings account at a bank.

1 Types of debit card
2 Online and offline debit cards
3 "Credit" and "debit" purchases
4 Chip and PIN
5 Popularity

Types of debit card

Although many debit cards are of the Visa or MasterCard brand, there are many other types of debit card, each accepted only within a particular country or region, for example Switch in the United Kingdom, Carte Bleue in France, Laser in Ireland, and EC (formerly Eurocheque) in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The need for cross-border compatibility and the advent of the euro recently led to many of these card networks being rebranded with the internationally recognised Maestro logo, which is part of the MasterCard brand. Some debit cards are dual branded with the logo of the former national card as well as Maestro.

Banks in France charge annual fees for debit cards (despite card payments being very cost efficient for the banks), yet they do not charge personal customers for chequebooks or processing cheques (despite cheques being very costly for the banks). This imbalance most probably dates from the unilateral introduction in France of Chip and PIN debit cards in the early 1990s, when the cost of this technology was much higher than it is now. Credit cards of the type found in the United Kingdom and United States are unusual in France and the closest equivalent is the deferred debit card, which operates like a normal debit card, except that all purchase transactions are postponed until the end of the month, thereby giving the customer between 1 and 31 days of interest-free credit. The annual fee for a deferred debit card is around €10 more than for one with immediate debit. Most French debit cards are branded with the Carte Bleue logo, which assures acceptance throughout France. Most card holders choose to pay around €5 more in their annual fee to additionally have a Visa logo on their Carte Bleue, so that the card is accepted internationally. A Carte Bleue without a Visa logo is often known as a "Carte Bleue Nationale" and a Carte Bleue with a Visa logo is often known as a "Carte Bleue Internationale". Many smaller merchants in France refuse to accept debit cards for transactions under €15.25 (equivalent to 100 French Francs) because of the minimum fee charged by merchants' banks per transaction. Merchants in France do not differentiate between debit and credit cards, and so both have equal acceptance.

In the United Kingdom, banks started to issue debit cards in the late 1980s in a bid to reduce the number of cheques being used at the point of sale, which are costly for the banks to process. As in most countries, fees paid by merchants in the United Kingdom to accept credit cards are a percentage of the transaction amount, which funds card holders' interest-free credit periods as well as incentive schemes such as points, airmiles or cashback. On the contrary, debit cards do not usually have these characteristics, and so the fee for merchants to accept debit cards is a low fixed amount, regardless of transaction amount. This means it is cheaper for a merchant to accept a debit card for a large amount and to accept a credit card for a small amount. Although merchants won the right through The Credit Cards (Price Discrimination) Order 1990 to charge customers different prices according to the payment method, few merchants in the UK charge less for payment by debit card than by credit card, the most notable exceptions being budget airlines, travel agents and IKEA. Debit cards in the UK lack the advantages offered to holders of UK-issued credit cards, such as free incentives (points, airmiles, cashback etc), interest-free credit and protection against defaulting merchants under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Despite these disadvantages of debit cards over credit cards, many people in the UK prefer paying with debit cards rather than credit cards, often because they fear that using credit cards will result in accumulation of unmanageable debts. All establishments in the United Kingdom that accept credit cards also accept debit cards (although not always Solo and Visa Electron), but a minority of merchants, for cost reasons, accept debit cards and not credit cards (for example the Post Office).

In Germany and Belgium, many merchants, including most supermarkets, do not accept credit cards because of the higher fees charged by their banks. However, most merchants usually accept debit cards, because the fees for accepting them are much lower, for example in Germany 0.3% with a minimum of €0.08.

Online and offline debit cards

There are currently two ways that debit card transactions are processed: online debit cards and offline debit cards. Online debit cards are essentially enhanced automatic teller machine (ATM) cards, as they use the same personal identification number (PIN) authentication system and debits are reflected in the user’s account immediately. The PIN authentication is much more secure than the alternative signature (used in offline debit cards). One difficulty in using online debit cards is the necessity of a separate keypad at the point of sale (POS) to enter the PIN, although this is becoming commonplace for all card transactions in many countries. Overall, the online debit card is generally viewed as superior to the offline debit card because of its more secure authentication system and live status, which alleviates problems with processing lag on transactions that may have been forgotten or not authorized by the owner of the card. Banks in some countries, such as Canada, only issue online debit cards.

Offline debit cards have the logos of major credit cards (e.g. Visa or MasterCard) or major debit cards (e.g. Maestro) and are used at point of sale like a credit card. This type of debit card may be subject to a daily limit, as well as a maximum limit equal to the amount currently deposited in the current/checking account from which it draws funds. Offline debit cards in some countries are not compatible with the PIN system, in which case they can be used with a forged signature, since users are rarely required to present identification. Transactions conducted with offline debit cards usually require 2-3 days to be reflected on users’ account balances. This type of debit card is similar to a secured credit card.

Many debit cards are actually capable of accomplishing both types of transactions, depending on the availability of proper equipment at the POS.

In the United Kingdom, Solo and Visa Electron are examples of online debit cards, which are typically issued by banks to customers whom the bank does not want to go overdrawn under any circumstances, for example under-18s.

"Credit" and "debit" purchases

In some countries (e.g. the United States), terminals allow the user of a Visa or MasterCard debit card to choose whether the purchase is a "credit" or "debit" purchase. In a "credit" purchase, the user signs a charge slip (as in a traditional credit card purchase); in a "debit" purchase, the user enters a PIN. In either case, the user's bank account is debited.

In some countries and with some merchant service organisations (as of this writing), a "credit" transaction is without cost to the purchaser beyond the face value of the transaction, while a small fee may be charged for "debit" transactions (although it is often absorbed by the retailer.) Other differences are that "debit" purchasers may opt to withdraw cash in addition to the amount of the debit purchase (if the merchant supports that functionality); also, from the merchant's standpoint, the merchant pays lower fees on a "debit" transaction as compared to "credit" transactions.

The fees charged to merchants on "credit" debit card purchases -- and the lack of fees charged merchants for processing "debit" debit card purchases and paper checks -- have prompted some major merchants to file lawsuits against debit-card transaction processors such as Visa and MasterCard. Visa and MasterCard recently agreed to settle the largest of these lawsuits and agreed to settlements of billions of dollars.

Many consumers prefer "credit" transactions because of the lack of a fee charged to the consumer/purchaser -- and many terminals at PIN-accepting merchant locations now make the "credit" function more difficult to access. Also, in the case of a benign or malicious error by the merchant and/or bank, a debit transaction may cause more serious problems (e.g. money not accessible; overdrawn account) than in the case of a credit or charge card transaction (e.g. credit not accessible; over credit limit).

To the consumer, a debit transaction is real-time; i.e. the money is withdrawn from their account immediately following the authorization request from the merchant. This is in contrast to a typical credit card or charge card transaction which can have a lag time of a few days before the transaction is posted to the account, and many days to a month or more before the consumer makes repayment with actual money.

Chip and PIN

In many countries, the use of PIN validated transactions with smartcard chip readers is being strongly encouraged by the banks as a method of reducing cloned-card fraud; to the extent that cardholder-present transactions will soon not be possible in these countries without knowledge of a PIN, and the POS terminal reading the smart card chip on the card.

Popularity of Debit Cards

Debit cards and secured credit cards are popular among college students who have not yet established a credit history. There are also forms of debit cards (e.g. Visa Buxx) that are purchased by parents for teenagers as young as 13. The parent retains a great deal of control over the child's use of the cards.

Debit cards are also similar to stored-value cards in that they represent a finite amount of money owed by the card issuer to the holder. They are different in that stored-value cards are generally anonymous, while debit cards are generally associated with an individual's bank account. Debit cards usually offer some protection against loss, theft, or unauthorized use while stored-value cards usually do not.

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