Pros and Cons of Debit Cards
In this week's edition of Newsweek, Jane Bryant Quinn outlines some of the pros and cons related to debit card usage in A Debit-Card Nation.
- You know you're spending real dollars. The purchase is pulled immediately from your bank account.
- They're an easy source of walking-around money. As with Discover Card, you can usually use debit cards to get cash at most grocery or drug stores by asking the cashier to add a specified amount to your total.
- They're a way to save. Not sure I agree with this one, especially for those folks who don't carry a balance. But if you have a lot of credit card debt, it's true that you can avoid racking up additional interest on credit card purchases by using your debit card.
- You can't use debit cards to establish credit history.
- Very few debit cards offer decent reward programs. And for the few that do, only signature debits count towards reward points. In other words, you need to swipe your debit card, choose debit/credit, and then sign the receipt (vs. PIN transactions, where you just swipe your card and enter a PIN number).
- You risk losing the contents of your entire bank account. Although Visa and MasterCard advertise "zero liability" if you're a victim of identity theft, some banks only offer this protection for signature debits. And only if you notice and report the theft within a specified period of time. With credit cards, you're usually only liable for $50, no matter when you report the issue.
And one final piece of advice. Don't use debit cards for online purchases. "With your bank account open, you risk too much. Order by credit card or order only by phone."