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Monday 24 November 2014

Dan White: Beware of those hidden Visa debit card charges

Dan answers your financial questions

Two weeks ago I received a new Visa debit card in the post from my bank Permanent TSB. The card was unsolicited.

Later that week my Laser card was swallowed in a local machine and I reluctantly activated the Visa Debit card.

Later on that week I discovered that I had been charged €3.17 every time I used the card in a 'foreign' ATM. The 'foreign' ATMs were in Newry -- a Bank of Ireland and First Trust (AIB). I live in Newry but work in Dublin and for the past 12 years I have never been charged for withdrawing cash from a 'foreign' ATM -- just the currency conversion.

After a heated exchange with PTSB they eventually conceded that the old deal they had with Cirrus for free banking with Bank of Ireland and AIB had ceased and Visa was now handling their business, for which, there is a charge. Before that, they had suggested I may have been undercharged for the past 12 years and perhaps they should look into that!

Anyway I see that Bank of Ireland is now dropping the Laser in favour of the Visa debit card. Does this mean their customers too will have to pay €3.17 every time they use a 'foreign' ATM in Northern Ireland?

Philip

Last year Permanent TSB announced it was dropping the Laser debit card in favour of Visa. ATM machines are now swallowing the Permo Laser cards, forcing users such as Philip to switch to using Visa debit cards. Last week Bank of Ireland announced it, too, was dumping Laser in favour of the Visa debit card.

With only AIB, NIB and EBS still using it, Laser is now a dead man walking and these three banks will almost certainly drop the Laser card in favour of either the Visa debit card or Mastercard's Maestro debit card sooner rather than later.

The banks argue that by switching to these internationally recognised debit cards they can offer their customers a wider range of services, including being able to shop online. The downside, as Philip discovered to his cost, is that he has to pay an arm and a leg to use a 'foreign' ATM.

So will it be the same for Bank of Ireland customers?

According to a spokeswoman, it treats withdrawals from its own ATMs in Northern Ireland by its Republic of Ireland customers as domestic transactions and has no plans to change this. In other words, if Bank of Ireland customers only withdraw cash from the Bank's own ATM machines in Northern Ireland they will not be stung for extra charges. But what about cash withdrawals from other banks' ATMs in Northern Ireland?

Bank of Ireland is also promising that it won't charge customers who use their new Visa debit cards to withdraw euro cash from ATMs in other Eurozone countries.

Somehow I can't help feeling that the banks have not fully thought through the possible implications of switching from Laser, which was part of the Cirrus network of ATM machines, to the Visa debit card, which isn't.

With so many people crossing the border regularly for shopping and tourism or, like Philip, living in the North but working in the South, this has the potential to become a very hot issue in the coming months.

And as for Philip, my advice to him would be to set up a separate sterling-denominated bank account for his sterling transactions, including ATM cash withdrawals, in Northern Ireland. Not alone would this eliminate the cost of using "foreign" ATMs it would also allow him to minimise currency conversion costs by converting one large amount of cash every month rather than being stung for a separate set of charges every time he uses his euro account for a Northern Ireland transaction.

My wages were cut recently and the overtime and bonuses that were such a feature of the good times have long since disappeared. With Christmas coming up have you any tips for saving a few bob?

Gordon

This is going to be a bleak Christmas for many people. With the economic outlook having become even more uncertain, many people are having to cut back drastically on their spending while even those who have money are keeping their hands firmly in their pockets.

For anyone seeking help on cutting back on their festive spending the National Consumer Agency has published a Christmas budget planner on its website, www.itsyourmoney.ie.

For anyone planning their Christmas the key is to be realistic and don't spend money that you don't have.

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