Credit or debit? Duo card lets shoppers choose

Fifth Third Bank hopes to slim down its customers' wallets with the introduction of Duo, a single magnetic stripe card that can swipe through retail checkouts as either a debit or a credit card. Other banks have experimented with storing multiple account profiles on a single piece of plastic.

Most notably, Citi has launched overseas trials of battery-powered credit cards that rewrite their magnetic stripes at the press of a button. However, Fifth Third becomes the first bank to launch a dual-account debit/credit card combination within the United States by exploiting a now-common behavior at the checkout counter.

Debit or credit?

Most retail point of sale systems enable shoppers to select "credit" or "debit" at checkout. Duo cardholders who select "debit" can enter a PIN and draw funds from their checking account. But if "credit" is selected, unlike typical debit cards, the Duo will charge a customer's linked credit line instead of their checking account balance.

Bolstered by recent federal rules capping merchant service fees for debit transactions, many retailers use automated payment displays to steer customers toward choosing more profitable debit card transactions. Therefore, many Duo cardholders may find themselves requesting cashiers to run their cards as signature credit transactions to avoid deducting funds from their bank accounts.

Enhanced fraud protection

In a statement to reporters, Fifth Third Bank spokesman Jon Groch highlighted the enhanced fraud protection inherent in a combined debit and credit card. MasterCard's Zero Liability Protection ensures that fraudulent credit transactions won't impact cash in a customer's bank account. Debit card transactions still require customers to enter a PIN, further reducing cardholder risk.

Groch noted that Fifth Third customers could use Duo to increase their financial flexibility without carrying an extra card. Duo cardholders will also enjoy extra perks, such as a rewards points program and free cell phone replacement insurance. Existing Fifth Card Bank customers can visit the bank's website or local branches to learn more about adding a Duo card to their accounts.