Debit Card Emergency Contact Number

My wife has a VISA debit card issued through our university credit union. Today she ran into what could have been a serious problem, and I would like to see if I am being too critical before I make a complaint. Although she took the precaution of informing the credit union of her upcoming trip to Italy, nobody informed her that there is a $1000 daily charge limit, or that she could have arranged to increase it to $2000. When she tried to check out of her hotel, the card was denied for "insufficient funds." It turned out that it was not actually insufficient funds, but the bill put her over the limit. That was bad enough, but when she checked the card, the only phone number listed was the credit union office, which of course was closed on Saturday and would not open again until Monday. Am I being unreasonable in complaining to the credit union that they should have some arrangement for emergencies such as this. Any reputable credit card provides 24/7 service to a customer who can provide necessary identification information, and I am wondering if other people with debit cards have a similar lack of 24/7 emergency contact. Somehow that just does not come across as a professional operation to me. This is my first post, so I hope it is to an appropriate forum. Thanks,
Charles

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3296 posts

I'm so sorry you'e had trouble on your trip. The issue of limits on debit cards is frustrating. I knew that there was a limit for cash, but I am a it surprised to find a daily limit for use as a credit card, which I assume is what you were doing. I'll be interested to hear if others have similar limits when using the debit card as a credit card. But this is one of the reasons why everyone says, take at least two... :) And yes you do need to check on those numbers before you leave. They ones on the back of my card are usually 800 numbers that won't work in Europe, so it's good to have a list of important phone numbers and one is definitely the credit card! Pam

Posted by melissa
Austin
799 posts

Very upsetting, but some banks and credit unions do not provide 24/7 service.I thought I had lost my visa debit card from my friendly local bank, and tried to report it missing. Same story- closed on weekends. Lovely folks, but they aren't the Big Guys. A different local bank monitors suspicious activity- called me at home one Labor Day Monday and asked if I was in India!- but they too aren't open 24/7; was their monitoring service that called. It won't hurt to inquire, I wouldnt be surprised if they have it posted in fine print somewhere when you opened the account.
Still so sorry about Toomer's Corner.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17732 posts

Charles, Most of my Visa and MasterCard products have a 24-hour North American phone number printed on the back of the card, which is to be called "collect" in the event of problems. I always pack a list of the phone numbers for contacting each of my card issuers, which is noted on the last page of my Itinerary. When I call each of the card firms to notify them that I'll be travelling in Europe, I confirm the overseas access number at that time (in case it's been changed since my last trip). I had to call one of my credit card firms during a trip to Greece a couple of years ago, and had no trouble getting through to them. Good luck!

Posted by Charles
Auburn, AL, USA
4 posts

We also have a regular MasterCard. When I learned what had happened to her I called the 800 number on the back of the card and spoke with a very helpful human. He was able to get the MasterCard account approved for her to use in Italy immediately. And he pointed out that on the back of the AT&T MasterCard, in addition to the 800 number, there is another number which he said my wife could call collect from anywhere if she should have a problem. I also looked on the back of of my Wells Fargo VISA card, and there is a similar international collect call number. That is the sort of service I would expect, and it seems to me like my credit union ought to be able to provide similar service through VISA--even if they had to charge a fee for the service.

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
910 posts

How frustrating, of course. But also a lesson in realistic expectations. It is perhaps not surprising that a clerk for a small local financial institution cannot prepare a customer for international travel. Personal local service, yes, but small is small. The big companies I deal with not only have 24-hr service, they provide numbers outside the North American 1-800 system where the calling charges can be reversed. For that, I pay higher charges. The other stern lesson sorry! is that thc customer, technically, is responsible for reading all the fine print on credit and debit card agreements. Somewhere, very probably, your daily limit has been explained. The limits on debit cards are often much lower than on credit cards. Both can be adjusted by the customer in advance. Credit cards are an easier option for paying large sums anyhow. However harsh this sounds, especially for a newcomer, you should be reassured that you did sort out a solution.
Foreign exchange is a constant topic on travel forums. While the situations are often complicated, there should be some comfort in realizing how much more convenient money matters have become, compared to travelling 30 or 40 years ago.

Posted by Charles
Auburn, AL, USA
4 posts

It sure is true that things have improved over the years. Fortunately my daughter is traveling with my wife on this trip and was able to cover the hotel bill until we got the problem resolved. My wife and both daughters have taken numerous trips to Europe over the last twenty years, and there have been many times when I might not hear from them for several days, or even known what country they were in. On this trip, after we had spent lots of time setting up email contact, Google voice numbers, GrooveIP access, etc., etc., my daughter remarked to me the other day, "How in the world did people ever travel back in the old days?" I laughed, and had to admit that maybe we have just become a little soft. Thanks for all the comments. I had just assumed that the "VISA" logo on the debit card meant that the card included the sort of service that our regular VISA and MasterCard credit cards do. It has been a useful learning experience, and I think I will recommend that my local credit union work out some sort of backup for VISA to provide emergency backup service--perhaps for a fee. Charles

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Am I being unreasonable in complaining to the credit union that they should have some arrangement for emergencies such as this. You're not unreasonable, but credit unions' business model is not set up for 24/7 or emergency service yet. That's one of the drawbacks of credit unions and probably what makes their overhead lower. I use a credit union card myself but have not ran into this problem only because I use CC cards more than debit/cash. I think credit unions will respond to customer demands sooner or later if those demands keep pushing them to do something and/or they lose too many customers to the Citis and BofAs of the world. So I think it's helpful to give them things to think about - but to actually do it, they'll have to rework their business model (at a cost). My credit union doesn't have a call center in India or elsewhere to answer calls around the clock (they only work from 8am to 4:30pm and I talk to a live person I know by first and last name) but, since I know this limitation and can live with it, I don't need to complain. As far as the clerk telling your wife her limit, it's an unfortunate oversight but the onus is on her to ask all relevant questions before setting out and not assuming anything beforehand. This is a typical "read the fine print" problem.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

My local credit union card has a 24-hour number on the card. I ran myself into a similar problem once when I had an emergency car repair - plenty of money in the account, but the total was over the daily limit on the card. Fortunately, it was local and I could write a check, but ever since then I have been aware of the daily limit (every ATM/debit card has one). If I were paying that large a hotel bill, I would use a credit card.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
7675 posts

My local credit union card has a 24-hour number on the card. I ran myself into a similar problem once when I had an emergency car repair - plenty of money in the account, but the total was over the daily limit on the card. Fortunately, it was local and I could write a check, but ever since then I have been aware of the daily limit (every ATM/debit card has one). If I were paying that large a hotel bill, I would use a credit card.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
560 posts

I would think that your credit union would have a 24/7 service for emergencies, such as lost card, etc. Mine does. Have you asked them for this number and they stated that it doesn't exist? What if your card was stolen on a Saturday? What are contingencies for that scenario. There is a collect number that all visa/master cards have for overseas calling. I always take this number with me, rather than the number on the back of the card.
Also, why not use a credit card for your larger transactions. For future trips, consider getting a no fee credit card, like Capital One. That way if one card goes bad (like in your wife's case), you have the other as backup (and for that big a transaction, I would love to get the points on my card).

Posted by Charles
Auburn, AL, USA
4 posts

This morning I sent an E-Mail complaint letter to the credit union's Asst. Vice President For Member Services. My letter addressed two issues: First, that my wife had not been informed of the daily limit when she visited the office in advance of her trip, and second, that there was no emergency contact number when she had a problem. I received a response within a few hours expressing what seemed to be a sincere apology for the the first issue and recognizing the need to look for a possible solution for the second issue. That seems to me like a reasonable attempt to address the issues. This has been a useful learning experience: Next time anyone in my family travels out of the country you can be sure we will contact both MasterCard and VISA in advance to be sure they are available as a backup. And except for this one incident, my wife, daughter, and son-in-law have been having a great time in Venice, Milan, and Florence, and are looking forward to several wonderful days in Rome.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7188 posts

I ran into the same locally recently. My son had been saving for a car. He had about $7,000 saved and was going to put down $4,000 borrow the rest (came in with a pre-approved loan). Like most people his age, he's never even ordered checks, he used his debit card exclusively. When they ran the debit card, we had the same issue. We called the bank and it turned out they had a $2,500 daily limit on purchases, but could waive it instantly - so the transaction went through. In your case, you're also running into the problem of a small credit union that offers little off-hours service, which can be a problem. I think if I ran into your situation, my first solution would be to use a credit card to pay for the room, then make a payment for that amount by phone/online or as soon as I got home.