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Check it out: Debit card use is on the rise in the Midwest

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

SIKESTON -- Will that be paper or plastic?

Recent research indicates more and more consumers are opting to make a quick swipe with their plastic check cards instead of forking over cash and writing out checks.

"It's all about convenience," said Robin Pace, assistant vice president at US Bank in Sikeston. "This day and age, society is so convenience-oriented it's so much quicker and easier to use a debit card. And it speeds up the process."

In 2003 there were more debit and credit card purchases than cash and check transactions, Dove Consulting recently reported. Consumers are using debit cards in record numbers fueling a trend toward electronic payments and away from cash and checks.

"We are seeing a big move toward debit and check cards and I think it's going to continue," noted Mike Pobst, president of Alliance Bank in Sikeston.

New Visa USA research shows there is a Missouri Check Card trend occurring. Compared to other states, Missouri is 20th in the nation and sixth in the Midwest in check card usage. Last year, Visa check cardholders from Missouri rang up more than $6.1 billion in sales at merchant locations across the state.

Check cards, or debit cards, look similar to credit cards, but act like a check because the purchase amount is deducted from the cardholder's checking account. Because the amount is deducted automatically from the person's checking account, there are no interest charges with debit cards.

In addition, checkout is speedier for customers and they don't have to carry as much cash, Pace pointed out.

Cardholders can make purchases at millions of locations worldwide and at places such as supermarkets, retail stores, restaurants, gas stations and Internet sites.

Pobst pointed out there's a lot vendors today that won't take personal checks, but they'll accept debit cards. "We have some customers who don't even utilize their checkbooks and use their debit cards," Pobst noted.

But then there are still some customers who like to see the money go in and out and prefer to write a check, Pobst pointed out.

Banks also benefit from usage of debit cards, Pace pointed out. For example, one benefit is purchases are automatically taken out of a person's checking account.

"When a person writes a check, there's a matter of float time and debit cards cut that float time," Pace explained.

Another benefit to the bank is it cuts down on the number of paper items used by the bank, Pace said.

"It's becoming a checklist system," Pobst said. "It's one of those things that makes things go faster and more efficient and less costly."

While the trend of debit card usage tends to lean toward younger people, the age of consumers using the check cards is growing daily, Pobst pointed out.

"At first we were seeing the younger generation using more of the ATMS, and now we're seeing middle-aged folks getting more comfortable with them," Pobst said.

Check card transactions are completed in two ways, either by signing a receipt or by entering a personal identification number, or PIN.

Pace advised customers to use their card wisely and protect it by not giving out their PIN or leaving the card in a wallet or purse in the car.

Many banks, such as Union Planters, now offer debit cards that offer zero liability fraud protection -- something that is a concern of many, noted Karen Grebing, regional marketing coordinator for Union Planters Bank.

"We have redone our debit cards into the Visa Platinum, which offers zero liability. This means if a card is lost or stolen, the customer incurs no liability," Grebing explained, adding there are different levels of debit cards. The only downside to using debit cards -- and it isn't necessarily a bad thing -- is that people must remember to write down their transactions in their check books, Pace noted.

To ensure checking accounts stay balanced, Pace strongly suggested customers hang on to their receipts until they show up on the bank statement, and then they can be thrown away. Also always look at the bank statement and make sure not only checks but debit transactions are accurate, she recommended.

Both Pobst and Pace predict debit card usage will continue its surge in the near future.

Pobst said: "We're becoming one of those plastic-type societies."