“Can you hold please?” the banking representative asks me over the phone.
“Yes,” I say. Deep breaths. Count to 10. This is the second time I’ve called my bank to replace my lost debit card. Three weeks without plastic is unbearable.
Paying for everything in cash isn’t convenient for me: Walking inside the gas station to pay for gas instead of at the pump, guessing how much cash to carry for the cost of groceries or remembering to bring my co-pay in cash to a doctor’s appointment I made two months ago.
“Ma’am?” the banking representative asks as she returns to the line. “There is no record of a debit card order. Do you know the name of the person who put your order through? I can put the order in now. It will take five to 10 business days to reach you. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
It was too much to handle.
“No, I didn’t get that representative’s name. This is the second time they didn’t process my card. With these circumstances, would you be able to put a rush on it? I have automatic payments that I need to connect the new account number to.”
“We can’t rush the cards. Did someone tell you about the ATM card you can pick up while you’re waiting? Is there anything else I can do for you?” she asked.
“No,” I said, feeling defeated. “No one told me about the ATM card. Can I get your name?”
The conversation continued. I almost held back tears.
An Unexplained Disappearance
This mess started on a Saturday night three weeks ago.
Dinner plans required my fancy blue clutch that matched my outfit, but the purse barely holds my keys, phone and lip gloss. Instead of taking a wallet, I grabbed the necessities: Driver’s license, $10 in cash and my debit card. I paid for dinner and everything went smoothly.
The next morning I reached for my debit card to pay for breakfast. The card was gone.
I checked my car, room and other purses. No debit card. I called the restaurant. Nothing.
My loss came at the worst time. I was leaving for vacation in two days and I’d be in another state without the convenience of my debit card. I withdrew cash to cover my trip.
Getting Nowhere with the Bank
The card never resurfaced, so I ordered a replacement. A bank official said the card would arrive in five to 10 business days.
Ten days later and there was still no sign of the card.
I called the bank and they claimed they never received the order. They also listed the incorrect address on their records. I went to the bank and changed my address in person. A week later I called the bank for an update. A bank representative said the order was never placed.
The amount of money at risk from losing your debit card ranges from nothing to a complete loss. The best advice to avoid losing your hard-earned money to a thief is to report the theft of a debit card immediately.
Life Without Plastic
Some people facing a similar situation can rely on their credit cards, but I cut mine up a long time ago after maxing them out and spending years repaying the credit card issuers. My debit card, on the other hand, is tied to my checking account and only gives me access to money I have.
Running to the bank whenever I needed cash started to drain my gas tank and time. Lunch required careful planning and budgeting to ensure I’d have enough cash on hand. I couldn’t make certain purchases like running shoes because my spending cash wouldn’t stretch to cover the cost.
More serious problems arose. The automatic payments for my cell phone, toll road transponder and car insurance provider would not go through until I had the new debit card account number. Eventually I wouldn’t even be able to call my bank to complain, because without successful payments my phone service would be disconnected.
10 Lessons about Dealing with Lost Debit Cards
Enduring this exasperating ordeal taught me how to handle debit card losses in the future. Hopefully these lessons can prevent you from unnecessary bank trips or countless days waiting for a card in the mail.
- Write down the name of the representative who processes your order and date of the phone call for all non-automated banking transactions, even checking your balance. You never know when this information will come in handy in the future.
- If you lose a debit card, immediately place the account on hold to protect yourself from fraud.
- Make sure the bank has your updated phone number and address to prevent complications when they try to contact you.
- Never keep your PIN number in your wallet or purse. Losing your wallet, along with your debit card and PIN number increases the risk of fraud.
- If you order a new debit card, ask the representative to give you the last four numbers of your new card to confirm the order. This will ensure they actually entered your information in their computer system.
- Estimate all expenses for the period without a debit card and withdraw that cash. Make sure you have extra cash, too, for gas, groceries and other personal expenses that quickly add up.
- Stop by the bank to get an ATM cash card. Some banks offer these cards as temporary tools to access to your money past banking hours. However, because of fraud, getting these cards may be difficult. It may require special circumstances. Call ahead to find your bank’s policy on ATM cards.
- Call the billing departments for any automatic payments and explain your situation. If you can, supply them with a number to another account.
- Get backup plastic. If you don’t already have a credit card, now might be a time to apply for one. For those of us with low credit scores, it will be easier to get approved for a secured credit card. Secured cards require a cash deposit and come with smaller lines of credit. These are a good stepping stone for rebuilding credit — and will tide you over while waiting for a new debit card to arrive.
- If you do find the missing debit card, cut it in half, making sure the account number is broken into separate pieces.
Today, success. I confirmed my card was en route. I called my bank and wrote down the names of the representatives who helped me. (By the way, always do this with banks, insurance companies and other large organizations.) Luke and Viviane assured me I have only a few days until the debit card arrives. If this ever happens again, you can bet I will be better prepared.
On my way home from work, I drove past a Redbox and thought of the movies that require a simple swipe of plastic. Next week maybe I’ll be able to rent one.
Alanna Ritchie is a content writer for Debt.org, where she writes about personal finance and little smart ways to spend (and save) money. Alanna has an English degree from Rollins College.