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Learn About Debit Cards

Learn About Debit Cards Fees

Most Banks work hard to monetize debit card transactions. A few years ago, it wasn't uncommon for banks to charge an annual fee for a debit card.

However, in today's competitive environment, a free debit card linked to your checking and savings account. Where you can find fees, however, is at the retailer's terminal or the point-of-sale, as it's known in the financial industry.


When you use your check card as a debit, you're punching in your PIN, which makes the card more secure and the retailer usually pays less per transaction. But that doesn't stop him from charging you for the transaction, which could be 50 cents or more. If you're using the card with a retailer you're not familiar with, especially a small business, be sure to ask first if there's a fee for running your plastic through.

Most banks clear your largest transactions first. Many people get caught by this system, it's a pure profit center for the bank. It's up to the bank how they clear charges and you need to be aware of their policy.

A recent study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that more than 46% of overdraft fees were triggered by debit card use, which underscores the importance of knowing how your bank reconciles your account. It may seem obvious, but you should hang on to every debit card receipt and make sure to log it into your register at least daily to keep your account up to date.

Current Versus Available Balance - When you check your account online or at the ATM, it often shows two separate figures, the current balance and the available balance. If you start the day with $100 and buy $50 in groceries with your check card, the store's bank notifies your bank that a $50 purchase is coming through, and it takes your available balance down to $50, even though it shows that you still "currently" have $100.

This can be deceptive because a lot of people aren't really sure what is in their account, and it makes planning purchases confusing, if a purchase is pending, that should be taken out of your current balance, period.

When checking your account, always assume the "available" is the correct one. Over time, you may notice that the lag between when you buy something and when it shows up on your account will shorten. Both Visa and MasterCard are introducing faster processing that will allow your account to be deducted within 24 hours of most purchases.

When you use your debit card for a hotel room or rental car, it's common for the hotel or agency to "block" an amount an amount equal to one or two nights, or as much as $400 if you're renting a car. This sum is taken away from your "available" balance, and when you check out or return the car, the block is lifted and that cash is once again available from your account. It works like a deposit to give the provider some cushion if you cause damage or use the room or car longer than promised.

The only way to fully protect yourself from blocks is to ask questions. Before traveling, call the rental car company and hotel about their block policy on debit cards. If you're concerned about possibly tying up cash with blocks, you can use your regular credit card to cover the deposits and then pay for the actual charges with your debit card when you check out.

If you're prone to overdrafts, some type of protection may be beneficial, but keep in mind that you'll pay for it. Most plans link your account to either a line of credit or your savings account. Depending on the plan, when your balance goes negative, either a set minimum -- say $100 -- is pumped into your account or just enough funds are taken to bring your account to zero. You'll also be charged about $5 to $10 each time the overdraft protection service is used, however, though that fee is still better than an overdraft that can be amount to several times that $5 or $10 total.

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