Visa Debit Cards...Almost Useful in Canada

About 6 months ago I opened a bank account at TD Canada Trust. Other members of my family have accounts there. They have amazing hours, and I thought it would make it easier to transfer money between accounts this way.

To my surprise, I was handed a debit card with a Visa logo on it. To my readers in the US, this will not seem strange. In Canada, however, our debit cards haven't been associated with a credit card company...just directly with our banks. TD is one of the first to start issuing these Visa debit cards.

I do a lot of bill payments and shopping online. I immediately started thinking of the benefits this card would provide. I could use my current Visa for business, and this one for personal (or visa versa). I like the idea of having it attached to my bank account, so I can keep my spending in check.

Unfortunately, the magic wore off pretty quickly. Apparently giving you a Visa debit card doesn't mean it's actually going to work as a Visa...at least not in this country. I switched a couple of my monthly subscriptions over to it, which of course worked just fine because they were US-based companies. This lulled me into a false sense of functionality.

I then proceeded to have the next 3 attempted purchases declined. Maybe it's just me, but a declined transaction automatically makes me panic. I never assume it's the banks fault...I'm just convinced that I'm now broke.

A phone call to TD quickly made me realize that I didn't fully understand the system. I'm a fairly quick learner, but plagued by logic. Logic is never the right thing to possess when speaking to a bank's customer service line. So, here's what I was told.

Yes, it's a "Visa" debit card, but that doesn't mean it goes through Visa's regular channels. Punching in the 16 digit number, the expiry date, and the 3 digit security code doesn't mean the same as if you're punching in a true Visa's 16 digit number, etc. The company you're purchasing from has to upgrade their merchant terminals to accept Visa debit for phone or online orders. So, just because they take Visa, doesn't mean they take Visa debit.

The biggest problem here is that they clearly haven't explained this to the vendors. In all of the situations I've had the card not work, the person on the phone was completely unaware of the difference. They were sure my card was maxed because they "knew" that they took Visa debit. Since I'm a bookkeeper, and occasionally long-winded, I usually try to explain the situation in detail. Trying to explain why they were wrong didn't help me out much.

So far the companies that accept Visa debit are completely random. For example, I can pay my Rogers Wireless bill with it...but not Bell Mobility.

I suppose this makes me a banking "early adopter". I had a PayPal MasterCard back when they still had those in Canada. I was (judging by the cashier's reactions to the bright orange debit card) the first person in Lethbridge to have an ING Chequing account. Now it's this.

And, just like people running beta software, I'm a guinea pig for the banks who are trying to iron out all the wrinkles in their new system.

I really can't wait until it works the same as (I think) it does in the US. Just like with PayPal, I'm completely frustrated by the inability to use my money the way I want to. Companies big and small want to get paid...at least I think they still do. Having to jump through so many hoops to give them my money should be a thing of the past.

Is it just me? Are you having better luck with these cards? Please let me know I'm not crazy (at least not because of this).