The Center For Debt Management
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A Consumer's Guide ...
To the Expanding Uses of ATM Cards

Which of the following can happen with an ATM card today?

    A shopper in Wisconsin pulls up to his bank's drive-through ATM. In minutes, he deposits his pay check, withdraws cash, and verifies the balance in his savings account.

    Upon landing in London, a traveler from Maine gets a hundred dollars' worth of British pounds at an airport ATM just as easily as she uses her ATM card to withdraw cash at her local bank branch ATM near home.

    While visiting friends in the next county, a Tennessee resident stops at an unfamiliar bank's ATM to check her balance and withdraw cash. She then proceeds to a gas station to fill her tank and pays for it by sliding her ATM card through the card slot on the pump and punching in her PIN.

    A California school teacher's ATM card also has the logo of a major credit card company on the front, allowing him to make purchases at any of the millions of stores that accept that brand of card for payment. He signs a receipt, and his purchases are automatically paid for out of his checking account.

    Answer: All of the above.

Since its introduction over 20 years ago, the ATM (automated teller machine) card has become part of everyday life, and people are using these cards millions of times each day. Today, changes in technology are allowing people to use the now-familiar ATM cards in new ways that are reshaping the way we handle our money.

ATM cards can give you more control if used wisely:

With an ATM card and a PIN - or personal identification number - you can virtually set your own "branch hours," depositing and withdrawing money from your accounts whenever you wish at your bank or credit union. What's more, most ATM cards already give you access to your money at ATMs located not only at all of your bank's locations, but also at other banks and in stores, airports, office buildings, and street corners across the United States and worldwide.

Your ATM card is becoming even more useful:

But wide access to ATMs is just the beginning. Technology is enabling banks and credit unions to introduce new services that allow you to pay for things by making your ATM card work like a check. This latest improvement can offer conveniences and money management benefits over cash and checks.

This article can help make you smarter about ATM cards:

As you read this brochure, you'll gain a better understanding of how to take advantage of the conveniences and features of shopping with your ATM card. And you'll find the information you need to use this new service wisely. If you have one of the more than 200 million ATM cards in circulation today in the United States, you may want to take it out of your wallet and refer to it as you read along.

The Evolution Of ATM Card Services

The Beginning - Getting Cash At ATMs:

The first ATM cards gave consumers access to their checking, savings, and share draft accounts only at teller machines owned by their bank, credit union, or savings and loan. People commonly call this kind of card an ATM card, cash card, or banking card, or they use the name that their bank, credit union, or regional network has given to the card.

When "regional ATM networks" were created, they linked together the ATMs of different institutions and offered consumers access to their money in other neighborhoods and nearby cities, towns, and states. (A list of many of these ATM networks' names and where they operate appears near the end of this brochure.) At the same time, two national networks Cirrus_ and Plus_ emerged, expanding ATM card access to cash, first nationwide, then around the world. Currently, these are the only two brands that offer a full range of ATM services worldwide.

ATM cards provide a convenient way of getting cash, making deposits and transfers, and verifying account balances. It is also easy to tell where you can use the card by simply matching the logos on your ATM card with those displayed on the ATM itself.

The Next Step - Paying With ATM Cards:

More recently, many ATM cards have been enhanced so that you can shop with the cards at merchants that sign up with the same networks that give the cards wide access to ATMs. (A list of many of these shopping service networks also appears near the end of this brochure.) Currently there is only one international service, called Maestro_, that lets cards work at participating merchants both in the United States and in more than 50 countries.

Grocery stores and gas stations were among the first retailers in the United States to install the small number pads, also called PIN pads, that you may have noticed at the checkout counter or on the gas pump. It is these devices that make shopping with many ATM cards possible.

The Latest News - Shopping Wherever Some Major Card Brands Are Accepted:

Another ATM card service makes ATM cards more useful by greatly expanding the number of retail locations that accept the cards for payment. ATM cards with the logo of one of two of the major card brands MasterCard or Visa can be used to make purchases anywhere these cards are accepted. Today, these kinds of cards are accepted at some 3 million places in the United States and 9 million more worldwide. Currently, these are the only two major card brands that offer this service.

If you have the logo of one of these card brands on your ATM card and want to use it for shopping, your ATM card basically works like a check. This kind of card is often called a money card, cash-and-check card, check card, or debit card, or it can have a special name given to it by your bank or credit union. Regardless of its name, this kind of card is still also your ATM card. Typically, this kind of card does not require the use of a PIN to make a purchase. You may already carry one of these cards. Look at your card to find out.

Using Your ATM Card To Shop

Matching The Logos:

Just as the various logos that appear on ATM cards tell you where they can be used to get cash or make banking transactions at ATMs, they also indicate where your card can be used to make purchases. Simply match the logos on your card with those you see displayed at the entrance to the store or at the cash register. Or just ask whether the store accepts your ATM card.

Depending on which logos you find on your card and whether the store has installed PIN pads, your purchases can be handled in one of two ways: either you will punch in your PIN, just as you would at an ATM, or you will sign for the purchase, as you would with a credit card.

Making A Purchase:

Let's say you've planned to buy a desk lamp. You need all your cash for other things and don't have your checkbook with you. At the entrance to the store, you notice an ATM network logo that matches the logo on your card. You decide to use your ATM card to pay.

When you present the lamp to the cashier, you will be asked how you would like to pay for the purchase. You offer your ATM card. The cashier will confirm that your card is accepted by the store, and if it is, the following will occur: 1) You will be asked to slide your card through a slot that reads the information contained in the magnetic stripe on the back of your card; 2) the cashier will then enter the amount of the purchase; 3) you will punch in your PIN, or secret code; and 4) the cashier will press a key that initiates an automatic phone call to your bank or credit union. This confirms that the money is available in your account. Once confirmed, your bank or credit union automatically deducts the purchase amount from your account, just like a check. You will receive a receipt of the transaction, if you want one, when the sale is completed. Make sure you record and subtract this amount from your account immediately.v

When A Major Credit Card Logo Is On Your ATM Card:

If you have an ATM card that also has on it one of two of the major credit card logos mentioned previously, your purchase will be handled as if you were using a credit card, except for three important differences:

  • First, the purchase amount will be deducted automatically from your account like when you write a check rather than being billed to you at the end of the month.

  • Second, typically, you'll pay no interest charges, since you're using your own money on deposit, not borrowing it. (However, there may be other fees associated with using this card, an issue addressed later in this brochure.)

  • Third, you will usually sign for the purchase instead of punching in your PIN. However, since this is your ATM card, if a store has installed PIN pads to accept your PIN, and it accepts one of the other logos on your card, the store clerk may ask you to use your PIN instead of signing.

Limits On Your Spending With The Card

You Can Only Spend What You Have:

When you use your ATM card, whether to withdraw cash or make purchases, you are using your own money that is on deposit at your bank or credit union. Naturally, you can only use as much money as you have available. If you have an overdraft line of credit attached to your account and your purchase with the card exceeds the amount available on deposit, your bank or credit union will charge interest on the amount you borrow from your overdraft.

There May Be Daily Spending & Withdrawal Limits:

Many banks and credit unions set daily limits on ATM purchases and cash withdrawals, as a deterrent to the use of stolen or fraudulent cards. Often, these two limits are different and each may vary widely, from a few hundred dollars a day to the entire amount available in your account. You should ask your bank or credit union whether your ATM card will have daily withdrawal and spending limits and, if so, what they will be.

While limits of this kind may seem like an inconvenience, they are there to safeguard you and your money from unauthorized use of your account. They can also serve to govern your daily spending, helping you to be more disciplined in managing your money and your spending habits.

So Keep Track Of Your Spending:

Always make sure to keep your receipts, and record your purchases in your checkbook immediately to prevent overdrawing your account. It's important to remember that regardless of whether you use your PIN or sign your name, all of your withdrawals and purchases will be automatically deducted from your account

How To Get A Basic ATM Card

If It's Not Offered Automatically, You Can Ask About It:

Most banks and credit unions across the country offer ATM cards. They are usually connected to a checking or share draft account. When you open an account, you may automatically be given an ATM card. But if you haven't been offered a card, you can ask for one.

You may also want to ask about any additional services available on the card.

For example, most ATM cards can be used for cash withdrawals and other transactions at ATMs in the United States and around the world. Your bank or credit union may offer with your account the additional service that allows you to use your ATM card to make purchases by using your PIN or signing a receipt. You May Need To Apply For Some ATM Cards.

In the case of an ATM card with a credit card logo on it, your ability to obtain this card will depend on the practices of the individual bank or credit union. The list below contains the kinds of things a bank or credit union considers to determine whether you qualify for this kind of service. You may be required to provide additional information on an application and undergo a credit check.

  • The length of your relationship with the bank or credit union
  • The average balance and status of your account
  • The number of times per year, if any, you overdraw your account
  • The number of banking products and services you use
  • Your credit history

Costs Involved In Using ATM Cards

The use of ATM cards naturally involves costs to provide the services. As a result, there may be fees associated with your use of the card. These vary, depending on your relationship with the institution and whether you are withdrawing cash or making purchases.

If a fee is charged at all, it can vary widely. For example, you could be charged a few cents, such as a dime, every time you use the card, or you could be charged a flat monthly fee, such as one dollar per month, or a combination of such fees. In some cases, fees are waived based on the amount you keep on deposit at your bank or credit union. But, keep in mind that fees can be higher or lower than those cited here. Check with your bank or credit union.

Fees Must Be Disclosed To You:

Along with knowing your available balance, you should be aware of any charges for using the card. Fees are established and charged by the banks and credit unions that issue the ATM cards. If a fee is charged, your bank or credit union must fully detail these fees when you get your card. Every time a fee is charged by the bank or credit union issuing the card, the fee will appear on your monthly statement.

When an ATM card is used to make purchases, a retailer may add a fee to your purchase total. If this happens, the store is required by law to disclose this to you in a display at the checkout counter. In this case, the fee is added to your purchase amount, not listed separately on your statement. Questions To Ask When You Sign Up For A Card:

Before you use your ATM card to withdraw cash or shop, you should ask your bank or credit union about the costs associated with ownership and use of the card. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What are the monthly or annual fees for this card?

  • What are the "per use" fees when using this bank's or other banks' or credit unions' ATMs?

  • What are the "per use" fees when using the ATM card to shop?

  • How can I avoid any of these fees?

Safeguards That Protect
Your Card and Its Use

Two features can make using ATM cards safer than cash and checks. First, their use is covered by federal regulations that protect both consumers and the institutions that issue the cards. Second, technology protects the information about your account.

It's smart to be aware of these regulations and protections. Here's a brief summary of the safeguards that come with your ATM card and what you must do to take advantage of them. You're Protected If Your Card Is Lost Or Stolen And If Someone

Uses Your Card Fraudulently:

If you report a lost or stolen ATM card within two business days of discovering the loss or theft, and report immediately any unauthorized uses of your ATM card that you find on your monthly statement, your liability is limited by federal regulations to $50. If you do not report the loss or theft within two days, you could be responsible for up to $500.

If you suspect that your ATM card has been used fraudulently, you must report it to your bank or credit union within 60 days of receiving the statement on which the questionable activity appears. If you don't act promptly, you could be liable for the full amount that the unauthorized user was able to withdraw.

You're Protected From Bookkeeping Errors:

Federal regulations also protect you against errors that may occur in your bank account during or as the result of an electronic transfer of funds. Such errors could include:

  • Omission of a transaction on your statement. For example, a deposit you make at an ATM does not appear on your next statement.

  • Incorrect amount deducted from your account. For example, you discover that a $14.25 purchase that you made last month with your ATM card appears on your monthly statement as $142.50.

  • Bookkeeping error. You pay for your $36 grocery order with your ATM card and find that the total amount has been deducted from your account twice.

  • Receipt of incorrect amount. You request $100 from your checking account at an ATM, but receive only $90.

If you suspect that a mistake has been made in your account, immediately call the bank or credit union where you have the account. You may be asked to follow-up your phone call with a written report of the suspected error.

Resolving Disputes With Retailers:

When you shop with your ATM card, it is important to remember that your rights relating to refunds and returned merchandise are the same as when you pay with cash or a check. You must resolve issues of this type directly with the retailer or store. It is the store's own policy on refunds and returns that generally governs these transactions. Retaining your purchase receipts can be important if you do need to exchange or return any items that you purchased with your ATM card. (Many stores print their return policies right on the receipts, so this can serve as a record of the item you purchased.) If your efforts to resolve these types of issues with the retailer are not successful, you may be able to obtain help from your bank or credit union. Ask your bank or credit union if they can help you, and if they can, be sure to document your discussions. Technology Protects Your Card:

There is a magnetic stripe on the back of your ATM card. This magnetic stripe contains your account number and other information about your account. All this information is encoded by your bank.

When you use your ATM card to withdraw money or make purchases at stores, the entire transaction is also electronically safeguarded to keep the information about your account completely confidential. Anytime you use your PIN, it is scrambled electronically and only your bank or credit union can decode it.

Use A Toll-Free Number To Speed Your Protection:

Many financial institutions provide a toll-free number on the back of their ATM card. Write it down and keep it in a handy but separate place, not in your wallet where you keep your cards and other valuables. Remember: the faster your report a problem, the better your protection.

Some Benefits Of Using Your ATM Card

An ATM Card Is Safer To Carry Than Cash:

If your card is lost or stolen, you can get your card replaced and prevent the loss of your money by making a simple phone call.

There's No Need To Show Various Forms Of ID:

The common hassles and procedures involved in getting a check approved at a store are eliminated when you use an ATM card to make purchases.

An ATM Card Will Be Accepted Far More Readily Than An Out-Of-State Check:

When you use an ATM card to make purchases, it's easy to tell where it is accepted just by matching the logos on your card with those at stores that accept the cards. And the number of locations that accept ATM cards is constantly expanding, enabling you to shop in more and more places without cash and checks.

Using An ATM Card Can Give You The Tools To Be A Smarter Money Manager:

All ATM card purchases and transactions appear as line items on the monthly account statement you receive from your bank or credit union. You'll find the date of purchase, the transaction total, and the merchant's name. When combined with the receipt that accompanies each purchase, these clear and complete records make it easier to track your spending than when you use cash alone.

ATM Card Purchases Can Offer Convenience Without Interest Charges:

If you use your ATM card to shop, you can get all the convenience of using a card for purchases, but without being charged interest. However, if you have an ATM card that's attached to a checking account with an overdraft line of credit and you overdraw your account using the card, your bank or credit union will charge interest on the amount you overdraw, just as they would with a check. If your overdraft protection is provided by a link to your savings or other account, you may not incur interest charges. Check with your bank or credit union.

Whether You Use Your PIN Or Sign A Sales Slip, You're Assured Confidentiality:

The only information provided to the store by your bank or credit union when you make a purchase with your ATM card is whether or not the transaction is approved and the amount of the purchase. The store does not have access to your account information, address or telephone number, or any other information that may be printed on your check.

Some Cautions and Tips
On Using Your ATM Card

Memorize Your PIN, Or Secret Code:

It's usually only a four-digit number. If your bank or credit union allows you to select your own PIN, pick a number that's easy to remember. Unfamiliar numbers can be difficult to recall when you're tired or under stress. But don't choose a number that's easily associated with you  like your birth date, social security or telephone number, or part of your address. Also avoid using consecutive numbers or repeating the same number. Your PIN is an important secret code and should be chosen carefully. Never write that number on your ATM card or on anything you carry with your card. Only you should know your PIN, so no one else can use your card.

Protect Your ATM Card From Damage So That It Will Always Work When You Need It:

Keep it in a place where it won't be bent, scratched, or overheated. It's important to protect the magnetic stripe on the back of the card. Should it become damaged, the card may fail to work in an ATM or at a store. If your place of employment provides magnetic cardkeys for access to your workplace, never put your cardkey near your ATM card. Magnetic cardkeys can erase the information in your ATM card's magnetic stripe, making it useless.

Make Sure The Transaction Or Purchase Amount Is Recorded Correctly:

Before you authorize any transaction with your PIN or signature, double check that the purchase amount is correctly entered by the store clerk.

Deduct The Purchase Amount From Your Checking Account Balance Immediately:

This will ensure that you always know how much money you have available in your account. Save All Of Your Receipts:

Keep the receipts from every ATM card purchase, deposit, withdrawal, and transfer you make, and compare them against the information on your monthly statement. This will help you to verify the accuracy of your statement, as well as to identify any unauthorized transactions.

When Using An ATM, Be Aware Of What's Going On Around You:

Have your card ready and be prepared to use it immediately. At unattended terminals or outdoor ATMs, observe your surroundings before beginning your transaction. Try to select terminals and ATMs in well-lighted, busy areas. If you must use an ATM or terminal in an isolated place, ask a friend to go with you, especially at night.

Prevent Others From Getting Information About Your ATM Card:

Always take your receipts with you to prevent anyone from obtaining information that could help them access your account. When at an ATM, always shield the screen and keyboard to keep onlookers from learning your PIN or the transaction amount as you enter them. If you become suspicious during a transaction, cancel it, take your card, and leave.

Check Periodically To Be Sure That You Have Your ATM Card:

Report a lost or stolen ATM card and any unauthorized transactions to your bank or credit union immediately.

Smart Money Management Habits

Your ATM card can be a useful tool in helping you develop good money management habits if you follow these five simple steps:

  • Establish a monthly budget.

  • Stick to your spending limits and track your expenses routinely and carefully.

  • Save your sales and ATM receipts and immediately deduct purchases and other transactions from your checkbook or your account register. Be sure to note any fees.

  • Promptly balance your checkbook against your monthly account statement, which lists all of your purchases and fees.

  • Use your monthly itemized statement as a systematic way to manage your spending habits and determine whether your budget is realistic.

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