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Fortunately for the debit card addict, some banks now make it easy to pay while out of country. (SEAN GARDNER/REUTERS)
Fortunately for the debit card addict, some banks now make it easy to pay while out of country. (SEAN GARDNER/REUTERS)

Personal Finance

Travellers: Not all debit cards are created equal Add to ...

Debit addicts have it tough when they travel.

Paying for purchases with your debit card is ideal because there’s no cash to fool with, and the money comes right out of your account in real time. In a financially precarious time, a pay-as-you-go policy is smart financial management.

Travelling is a problem, though. Interac debit cards work at some U.S. retailers, but it’s tough to tell which ones. On a recent trip to the United States, my debit card worked at a gas station, but not at a used CD and DVD store. Internationally, your Interac debit card might as well be a Pokemon card.

Fortunately for the debit addict, some Canadian banks now offer clients access to the global Visa debit network. Effectively, this means they can pay for things wherever Visa cards are accepted and have the purchase paid for immediately from their bank account at no cost beyond the usual foreign exchange markups. This is a great service and it’s timely now that people are heading off on summer vacation. If you don’t have Visa debit, contact your bank to see if it’s available.

Toronto-Dominion Bank has just introduced a new debit card that links into the Interac network that everyone’s familiar with, as well as Visa debit and a service called Interac Flash that is just now ramping up and offers quick tap-and-go payments for small purchases.

“For us, it solidifies our promise around convenience, which is core to our brand,” said Raymond Chun, senior vice-president of everyday banking and payments at TD Canada Trust. “What we’ve done is give our customers access to their bank account so they can actually pay for purchases the way they want to, depending on the situation.” TD will be mailing out these cards to some of its clients, but if you want one right away the best thing to do is stop by a branch to swap your existing client card. TD’s triple functionality on its client card is both smart and dismayingly unique. Not all banks seem to understand that the number of bank/credit cards and associated passwords we all have is edging closer and closer to unmanageable.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce came early to the idea of integrated client cards, introducing a combined Visa debit and Interac card back in October, 2010. Colette Delaney, an executive vice-president at CIBC, said the bank has seen lots of growth in the volume of Visa debit transactions happening in the U.S. and abroad.

“Once clients use the card a first time, they tend to use it again and again,” she said. “I think familiarity is building.”

Royal Bank of Canada has recently been sending clients RBC Virtual Visa Debit cards, which are designed strictly for debit payment of online, phone and mail order purchases. Bank of Nova Scotia has not launched a Visa debit card, but is considering doing so. Bank of Montreal reports that its clients have been able to make debit transactions abroad for the past 15 years using MasterCard’s Maestro network.

The multiple payment networks the banks are offering may sound confusing, but they’re really not. Interac is the default debit network in Canada, while Visa for most banks is the default debit system in the United States and internationally. You can’t accidentally use the wrong network and, even if you did, there would be no repercussions because both are wired directly into your chequing account. Interac Flash is an enhancement of Interac that will appeal to anyone stuck in a long lineup at a cash register.

Think of this service as Interac’s version of Visa payWave and MasterCard PayPass, which are designed for small transactions, typically less than $100. You simply tap your card on an electronic reader and you’re done.

The usual protections against fraudulent use of your card apply. Interac reports that some national retailers are currently adding the necessary terminals to introduce higher-tech debit cards needed to use this service, so your existing card may not work.

The banks apparently have varying levels of interest in providing Interac Flash to clients. Scotiabank, RBC and now TD have started introducing this service and CIBC is still taking a look.

Memo to the banks: By all means give us more options like Interac Flash and Visa debit to pay for purchases, but don’t give us more cards and passwords. Too much clutter in our wallets and our brains may just drive us back to using cash.

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Debit etiquette

To avoid confusion when paying for things, CIBC offers these suggestions for clients who hold its CIBC Advantage Debit Card.

The card provides access to both the Interac and Visa debit networks, and has logos for both on its face.

In Canada:

-You may need to remind the cashier that you’re using a debit card, not a credit card, by pointing to the Interac logo.

-If your card is declined, check to make sure the purchase was processed as a debit.

In the U. S. and overseas:

-Tell the cashier you are paying by Visa.

-Enter your PIN to complete the transaction.

 
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