Subject: Re: Bank - ATM - Questions
Hi Barbara,

>I'm still pondering the currency issue. I went to my bank yesterday
>and asked about ATM cards. They said that as long as the card has
>Cirrus or Plus on it, then it should work in Europe. I also
>understood that I could get a 4-digit numerical PIN. So, that seemed
>alright. I just have to fill out the application.

So far, so good.

>Then they also suggested a debit card. I asked them what I would
>need that for. They (two women) said that I could use it to make
>purchases or if I want to buy something. They said nothing about
>being able to use it to obtain cash from a foreign bank. I told them
>no, that I didn't need anything else taking money out of my checking
>account. Except for the service charge when using an ATM (my local
>bank doesn't charge here), I can't understand why I'd want to use a
>debit card instead of a credit card, if I am going to pay the credit
>card bill when it comes in.

Here's the thing, as I understand it: Visa/Mastercard and the bank don't make as much money from a pure ATM card as from one of those debit cards.

The debit card can be used just like a credit card and, in fact, that's one of the points they try to use to sell them. But the simple fact is that there are places where credit cards can be used without a signature (or a PIN), such as gas pumps, telephones, mail orders, etc. Furthermore, there are sellers that don't look very carefully at the signature on a credit card.

If your credit cared is stolen you will, by federal law, be out no more than $50; as a practical matter you probably won't even be out that much. When my Visa card was stolen in Paris the thief ran up nearly $600 in charges at telephones, fuel pumps and some boutiques. When the charges showed up on my statement I called my card issuer and told them (I had already advised them immediately after the card was stolen). I marked the charges I hadn't made on my statement and sent it back; I never paid a sent for those charges.

With a debit card, on the other hand, the thief could have run up the very same charges and the money would have been instantly gone from my bank account. The bank says they'll honor the same sort of theft protection as the credit card does, but now the protection is not a matter of federal law but a matter of the contract between you and them. The money is gone form your account and you must convince them that your card was indeed stolen, and they must be kept from believing that you are trying to scam them.

>Seems to me that the best deal is to find the cheapest way to get
>cash and then carry fairly large sums around on one's person in a
>money belt. When I was in Eastern Europe four years ago, I basically
>used cash in the local currency after going to an exchange office. I
>carried fairly large sums of cash, much more than I ever carry on me
>in the USA! I only used a credit card once; that was in Budapest in
>making a larger than usual purchase of souvenir handicrafts.
>Otherwise, US currency got changed into whatever currency I needed
>and I just carried the cash.

The only former Soviet bloc nation I've been in is Estonia so I can't speak to the situation in the old East Europe. But there is little point in carrying a whole bunch of cash around in Western Europe. ATMs are everywhere, and you get a much better deal on the exchange that at a currency booth or bank. We try to have maybe up to $300 worth of euros or whatever on us and that's it. With a credit card paying for most things, including Underground tickets and meals we simply don't need very much cash.

I admit we do also carry about $300 in US money as a backup, but we have never had to use it.

>Does a debit card allow you to take out much greater sums of money at
>a significantly less cost? If so, maybe I should get the debit card
>instead. I am not sure that I want to be walking around with both an
>ATM card and a debit card on my person. Any ideas?

Given the dangers inherent in the debit card you don't WANT it to have a high daily limit. Again, the debit card does nothing that can't be done by an ATM card and a credit card.

We normally pay off our credit card as soon as the bill arrives, and with two and three week trips there's been no problem. But next summer we are going to be in Europe for about ten weeks and we're scratching to find a way to pay our credit card bill when it comes while we're gone. I guess we'll sign a blank check to the credit card people and have a friend fill in the amount.

Regards, DAVE HATUNEN Tucson Arizona, out where the cacti grow