Debit Cards Take the Fight to Our Flexible Friends
German, Clifford, The Independent (London, England)
Some of us are cat-lovers, some of us are dog-lovers; relatively few of us find room in our hearts for both species, and some people live their lives without ever knowing the pleasures of owning either.
So it is with credit cards and debit cards. There are millions of people who regularly use credit cards and millions who use debit cards, but relatively few who use both regularly.
Both cards are made of plastic, both are convenient alternatives to cash and cheques. But they do seem to appeal to different people. Credit cards had a 20-year head-start in this country, debit cards have only been around for a decade. Credit cards come in a great variety of breeds, ranging from the original Barclaycards and Access (now Mastercards), to brash new American breeds. Between them they have bred many affinity cards on behalf of charities and special interest groups. They are expensive as sources of credit, but shrewdly used they provide free credit for up to two months. Some incur an annual charge, some are free. Debit cards are less diverse, less colourful, and there are only two big brands. Visa Delta serves Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Co-operative Bank, Abbey National and some building societies and foreign banks in the UK. Switch is the brand name established by NatWest, Midland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Debit cards were introduced as substitutes for cheque books. The card is swiped through a reader (or zapped through a machine that makes paper vouchers). The signed authorisation then acts as your receipt. The payment is automatically debited to your account, although it usually takes a day or two to complete the transaction. Debit cards do not offer you credit. The cards are automatically accepted up to the floor limit of the store you are using even if there is not enough in your account. But you will be in trouble with your bank if you do not have an agreed overdraft limit in place to meet the payment you are trying to make. If the payment you are trying to make exceeds the store's floor limit and you do not have the money or an authorised overdraft limit to meet it, the transaction will be refused immediately. There are no annual charges and no transaction charge, and they are quicker and tidier to use than a cheque book. …