Debt Consolidation

The Facts About Debt

Is it time to throw out your debit card?

Filed under: Banks, Debt, Debt Consolidation
Tags: , , , — Written by: Lyuda
March 12, 2010

Chip on Debit Card
Photo by: Declan Jewell (Flickr)

The only thing about as bad as fees you can’t afford to pay due to economic hard times is fees that you don’t even realize you’re paying. Thanks to declining returns on services customers do opt for however that’s exactly the kind of fees banks are starting to love. An easy way to rope you into fees is bank debit cards, and even if you have never had a problem with one you may want to take a look now.

The first way these lock you into fees is you pretty much require overdraft protection to use one. Many argue that if you manage your account well and treat a debit card transaction like a check you won’t get into trouble. Unfortunately this is not true at all. Banks use a number of tricks in how they process transactions that make it impossible to be certain when a charge will take place, or for what amount. One bank manager I talked to said he was frustrated because he honestly couldn’t understand how they process these transactions; he said he always leaves a couple hundred dollars just in case, even though he is very sure of what money comes out of his account. These cards are seriously designed to encourage Non-sufficient funds fees with balances that do not consistently update and a ‘courtesy’ of letting you overdraw your account by hundreds of dollars before they decline a charge. A courtesy that can result in hundreds of dollars worth of fees; a postage stamp could cost you more than forty dollars!

Another hidden debit card fee is annual membership to some ‘rewards’ program. Typically the rewards aren’t amazing, and the ‘points’ earned are no more consistent than the order in which debit card transactions are processed. In almost any situation you’d see a lot more rewards by opting out of this program and just saving the money in a savings account. A similar ‘rewards’ program is to acquire points for ‘being green’. In reality this one is more about saving the bank from paper costs than it is about the environment, but it can also keep you less informed about your account balances.

Frequently also these days there is a charge just to have a debit card, or to use one. If you receive an updated notice in the mail regarding your card make sure to see if there is a new annual or monthly fee, or even a new transaction fee. Careful management of funds can only happen when you know for sure what fees may post to your account. A new 35-cent fee for a specific type of transaction could have you literally seeing a bright red 35-dollar insufficient funds charge!

Many people, especially younger people who have grown up with debit cards, find it hard to manage without them. It does take getting used to but it’s worth the cash saved, and avoiding disastrous NSF fees. Keeping enough money on hand, and keeping a low fee credit card ONLY for emergencies makes a lot more sense then letting the bank borrow your money while you essentially pay THEM interest on it in subtle fees. If you really can’t live without the convince of a card then make sure you always know what fees are charged, opt out of high interest overdraft protection, and keep a safety net of at least a couple hundred dollars in your account in case an unsuspected fee posts to your account.

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1 Comment »

  1. Debit cards are quite useful, and while it’s obviously not a good idea to spend recklessly with them, they can be quite useful in many ways. Cash shouldn’t be the only thing you can use to make payments, it’s too inconvenient these days. Just stay on top of how much you’re spending and you should be fine.

    Comment by Reggie Masterson — July 2, 2010 @ 11:24 am

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