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Ten tips

By LAURA T. COFFEY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 3, 2001


How to avoid some of the perils of debit card use

Debit cards offer the convenience of credit cards without the hassle of writing checks and without interest charges because they take money from your checking account. Nevertheless, there are potential perils. Consider these tips:

1. Keep track of your balance. It's important to record all debit purchases and ATM withdrawals in your check register. Otherwise, you may bounce checks and face steep penalties.

2. Watch those fees. Always try to use ATM machines affiliated with your bank. If you don't, you might be hit with one fee from the bank whose ATM you're using and a separate fee from your bank. Another fee may come into play if you exceed your bank's limit for free transactions.

3. Report stolen debit cards immediately. Debit cards don't offer the same protection from unauthorized use as credit cards. You must report a debit card stolen within two days in order to be responsible for just $50 in unauthorized withdrawals.

4. It could get worse. If you don't report your card missing within two days, you could lose up to $500 in unauthorized withdrawals. You risk unlimited loss if you don't report the missing card within 60 days. Check to see if your card issuer or bank offers extra protections.

5. Guard your PIN. Never carry your personal identification number, or PIN, in your wallet or anywhere near your card. Also, never choose easy-to-guess PIN numbers, such as birthdays, addresses or phone numbers.

6. Hang on to your receipts. A thief could make all sorts of purchases after getting his or her hands on your debit or credit card number.

7. Recognize the risks of linking accounts. A thief who obtains your debit card or debit card number could clean out a savings account and gradually max out a credit card linked to your checking account. And if you fail to report the card missing within 60 days, you could lose everything.

8. Check your bank statements. Go over your statements carefully each month to make sure there are no mistakes. If you spot unauthorized charges, call your bank right away.

9. Take precautions. Write down all your account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers of your card issuers so you can call them quickly if your cards are stolen. Keep this information in a secure place separate from your cards.

10. Don't use debit cards for major travel purchases. If you use a debit card to buy airline, train or bus tickets and then have to cancel or postpone your trip, it could take weeks to get a refund. -- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey.

Sources: Myvesta.org (http://www.myvesta.org); and the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov)

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