The Center For Debt Management
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Federal Protections
Of Debit Cards Use

The federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) protects you from errors, loss or theft of your debit card. However, unlike the Truth in Lending Act protections for credit cards, which cap a consumer's liability for unauthorized transactions at $50, the law limits liability to $50 if the debit cardholder notifies the bank within two business days after discovering the theft.

If you don't notify your bank within those two days, you could lose up to $500, or perhaps more. In the worst-case scenario — if you receive a bank statement that includes an unauthorized debit-card withdrawal and you wait more than 60 days to alert your bank — you could be liable for any amounts from transactions made after that 60-day period.

The good news is that many banks don't hold a consumer responsible for unauthorized transactions if he or she notifies the institution in a timely fashion. But remember that with a debit card, the money tapped by the thief has already been taken out of your account.

Under the EFTA, a bank has 10 business days to investigate the matter (20 business days if your account is new) and report back to you with its results. If the bank needs additional time, it may, under certain circumstances, temporarily give you some or all of the disputed amount until it finishes its investigation. Generally, a bank is allowed up to 45 days of additional investigation time (90 days for certain transactions). "But until the dispute is resolved," said Creamean, "you should be prepared to pay your mortgage, car payment, credit card bill and any other obligations that may come due." Also, she said, if the bank's investigation finds there was no error, theft or loss, it can take back the money it put into your account, after notifying you.


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