Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cash is still king and why you shouldn't fully rely on your debit card

There's nothing that will spoil a shopping experience as much as hearing the dreaded words, "declined" when paying for a purchase after a long, hot work-day.

Yesterday, while using my debit card for a relatively small purchase, my card was declined. Shocked and dismayed as I mumble to myself in disbelief while a long line of irritated customers sighed as I insisted the clerk retry my card, it failed me when I needed it. Annoyed with myself that I didn't have more than five dollars cash in my wallet, I defaulted to my credit card. Knowing there was a large amount of funds in my savings account that I was trying to accesses, I tried again at another store and still heard the dreaded word, "declined" from the store clerk.

I called the number at the back of my card (the bank shall remain nameless) and they informed me that my "card was compromised" and my limit for purchases had been reduced to $200. Although I pressed for an explanation of why, the call centre rep simply repeated the statement and told me I had to get into my bank to get a new card. Easy for him as he's not the one working during banking hours making it impossible for me to get a new card this week. Further more, the purchases I was trying to make were both under $200.

Lesson learned: folks, because we're "protected" from fraud on our debit and credit cards, these companies and the banks are flagging accounts quicker than ever and shutting down access or reducing limits more and more. Without a debit card and no time off to get to my bank, I of course have no ability to access cash either. Thank goodness I have two back up credit cards to make it to my next day off.

Take a moment today and ensure that you have a reasonable amount of cash on hand that could take you through a long weekend (God forbid debit and credit card terminals weren't working - what would one do?) And, ensure that you have at least two credit cards ideally both with a zero balance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Be cautious when using your credit card at gas station pumps

On a recent trip to Toronto, I had to gas up my rental car. To avoid an umbrella-less dash to the store during a rain storm, I thought I'd just use my credit card at the self-serve pump. I inserted my MasterCard and the clerk chimed in over the loud speaker, "the credit card option isn't working - you'll have to pay inside."

So I did, paid with cash, thought nothing of it and went about my day. Until, I received an email alert (my MasterCard sends me an email alert when there's a transaction on my account) for a $100 purchase. I called MasterCard to find out what the charge was and they told me it was ESSO, the gas station putting a hold on my account. Even though the machine supposedly didn't work.

Again, I thought nothing of it and went about my life. Today, I logged onto my account and saw there was a $25 charge from the date in question. I called MasterCard and after a reasonable amount of time (but still a wasted 20 minutes of my life), they're reversing that charge with follow-up proof of my cash paid receipt.

I'll definitely think twice about using my credit card at a self-serve pump in the future and also a reminder to keep all receipts.