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Debit cards a financial danger

Turns out the most dangerous plastic to carry in your wallet may not be your credit card.

Debit cards account for 46 percent of overdraft charges from banks, averaging a $34 fee, according to a recent report by the Center for Responsible Lending. Customers end up paying an average of $2.17 for every dollar borrowed through overdraft loans.

Much of the problem rests with banks, according to the report, because many banks approve debit transactions even when the consumer has insufficient funds. Most consumers surveyed by the group said they'd rather the transaction be canceled than pay the fee.

"In these cases, banks can warn customers or merchants when they have insufficient funds - but most do not. They can also decline the transaction and save the customer the overdraft fee - but most do not," said the report entitled Debit Card Danger.

The increased use of plastic could be attributed to the decline of writing checks, which accounted for just over a quarter of overdraft charges, according to the report.

That's a move toward what some have called a "cashless society," said Deborah Cox Bell, a certified financial planner in Myrtle Beach.

"Cash becomes a number and not a dollar, and there's a difference [in the minds of consumers]," Bell said.

Bell said consumers need to use debit cards as responsibly as any form of payment. "We can access our bank accounts via computers and online. We should be able to keep up with our balances more effectively and efficiently," she said.

Bell questioned how it benefits consumers for banks to let them overdraw despite the "incredibly high fees."

"It can really add to the cost of whatever you're spending, whether you use a credit card or checking account," she said. "It can eat into your income."

In Grand Strand retail news:

Do you have one of the Peter Pan or Great Value peanut butter jars that was possibly contaminated with salmonella?

For a full refund, consumers should follow these instructions from the ConAgra Web site: Consumers must return the Peter Pan Peanut Butter or Great Value Peanut Butter product lid along with their name and mailing address to ConAgra Foods, P.O. Box 57078, Irvine, CA 92619-7078.

Consumers with questions or concerns about the recall can call the 24-hour toll-free hotline at 866-344-6970. For more information about salmonella, visit www.ific.org.

United Way of Horry County and Colonial Mall-Myrtle Beach have partnered to collect used formal wear that would be suitable for teenage students in Horry County to wear to high school prom. Dresses, tuxedos, shoes and jewelry can be dropped off at Guest Services in Colonial Mall or at the United Way office until March 31. With each outfit donated, customers will receive a coupon from Foxy Lady towards the purchase of a new prom gown and be entered into a drawing for a $500 Colonial Mall gift card. For information, contact the United Way office at 347-5195.

Soft Tubbin Inc. of Myrtle Beach, a local affiliate of the international spa company Softub Inc., was recently ranked in the top 15 out of 350 U.S. and European Softub dealers for 2006. Soft Tubbin is located in Coastal Grand Myrtle Beach mall. Greg and Teresa Shmanske have operated the store for 16 years, selling portable hot tubs for indoor and outdoor use.

Stein Mart Inc. has completed the transition of its shoe departments nationwide to carry only shoes provided by DSW Inc.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus is warning consumers to be wary when considering foreign currency investment, particularly the Iraqi Dinar, because of a number of recent scams. Get more information at http://bbb.com.

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