How would you like to have a credit card that costs you nothing, is accepted almost anywhere you go and never hits you with any credit charges?
This card is here. It's called the "debit" card and works just like a credit card except you're using your own money instead of temporarily borrowing it.
The two major debit cards in existence are issued by Visa and Master-Card. The Visa card looks exactly like a Visa credit card. The merchants can't tell the difference. Just the numbers are different.
MasterCard II debit card has roman numerals to differentiate it from the regular MasterCard credit card.
The fundamental difference between a debit and credit card is the fact that you're drawing on your own money with a debit card -- just like a plastic check.
If this is so, you may ask: Who needs it?
Both MasterCard and Visa officials say lots of people are moving into debit cards, especially young, working people from age 28 to 35. These new accounts like the debit cards precisely because they're as widely accepted as their counterpart credit cards and there are never any finance charges. You can't slide into debt. You can only make purchases up to the limit of the money in your checking or savings account. The same as keeping your checkbook in balance.
There's never a change for a debit card and many bank credit cards now cost as much as $15 a year. Also, the bank credit cards in some areas are charging cardholders interest from the day of purchase when the previous month's credit bill has not been paid off.
In areas where the banks as yet do not charge interest from the date of purchase, a credit card has a certain advantage over a debit card in the fact that you get to use someone else's money and don't have to pay it back for 30 to 50 days. It's called a "float."
And with the credit card you can withhold payment from your monthly bill for any item that was not delivered or broke down under warranty and is being ignored by the seller. With a debit card, the merchant has your money within 24 hours and your negotiating power is diminished. Same as paying with cash.
Still, the debit cards are growing in popularity and could rival credit cards within a few years.
Some items to keep an eye on:
This fall, both MasterCard and Visa say they will begin to open up a national network of ATMs (automated teller machines) operated by member banks to accept your debit card wherever you go in your travels.
If you're in some distant city over the weekend and run out of cash, no problem. Just take your trusty Visa or MasterCard II debit card to the nearest member bank with an ATM, punch in your secret I.D. number, tap out how much cash you need and -- presto -- you've got the money in hand.
In some areas, the Visa debit card is already being used in hundreds of member banks' teller machines. Next year, you might even see the debit cards being accepted all around the world. Imagine drawing cash, making a deposit, transferring money to another account or paying bills from a machine in Hong Kong or Paris.
Also, you'll see much wider use of debit cards to access the high-interest-paying money market funds. Instead of getting 5 percent-plus from a NOW (interest checking) account, you'll be getting up to 15 percent.
Merrill Lynch has one of these accounts, using a Visa debit card. Shearson, Loeb Rhoades (with American Express) will soon have one. Other groups are forming.
Q. I read your column about the reader who got stuck with a burn check. The same thing happened to me. I have an account in the same bank as the person who gave me the bad check. So I got in touch with the bank manager and he said he would put the check up for collection.
When the offending party deposited more money in his account the bank made sure I was the first one paid off.
Just thought I'd pass along this tip. If you have an account at the same bank (or even if you don't), see if you can get the bank manager to help get your money bank.
A. Thanks for the tip. You certainly have a resourceful bank manager. But I'm no so sure all banks will offer this kind of personal service. It's worth a try, though.