Friday, June 28, 2013

A Card-Carrying Newbie

Debit cards are everywhere now, but in 1994, they were on the cutting edge of banking. People hadn't thought of using an ATM card like a credit card, and that also applied to the ATM machines.

I didn't have a bank account when I arrived in McAllen, Texas. My cash supply came from the green Mark Twain Bank Visa debit card, drawn from a financial institution in Fenton, Missouri. It worked so much like a credit card, I didn't tell cashiers it was, unless I needed to. They took the card, ran it through, and it worked.

I didn't carry travelers checks, and I knew not to carry wads of cash. So the Mark Twain card was the only way to get gas, groceries and grub, at least until I could get an account set up at either Texas Commerce Bank or Texas State Bank. I didn't know which was better, but as long as the green card worked, I had both time and money.

Eventually, I needed to get some greenbacks. So I walked up to a Texas Commerce Bank ATM and stuck the card in. The ATM examined it and said I hadn't inserted it correctly, but it wouldn't give it back. I went inside the branch to talk to Customer Service.

"Once it holds your card, it's destroyed."


"You'll have to contact your bank to get it back."


I explained to the lady that the card was my lifeline, having just moved here from St. Louis, and I didn't have a bank account here yet, because I didn't have a permanent address. And not every place will take a check, anyway. Besides, I said, that card is compatible with Cirrus tellers, including yours, so it shouldn't be giving me trouble.

She did some calling told me I needed to see a guy named Jaime who service the ATM and get the card back from him at the main branch on 10th Street. She left a message for him on the phone.

I decided to go there myself and talk to him, and fortunately, I got better service from him than anybody at the smaller branch. He said it wouldn't be a problem to get the card back -- just come by tomorrow by 1pm and get it.

Moving on, I tried to cash a check at a place up the street. The clerk turned me away -- sorry, no personal checks cashed after 2pm. I'd never heard of a time limit until then.

The next day, I got the magic card back, and within a week, I'd set up an account at Texas State Bank. The card episode narrowed my decision down quickly. TSB only offered a straight ATM card -- not a debit card -- but it worked.

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