Choosing a French Bank Card
Tuesday 01 July 2008
You can pay anything from around €10 to €300 a year for a bank card, so which one should you choose? We take you through the options available to you.
Carte de Retrait
At the bottom of the range is a cash card, which allows you to withdraw cash from most cash points, but does not permit you to pay for the purchase of goods.
There are two main brands of cash cards in France – Carte Cirrus and Carte Plus, the former issued through MasterCard, whilst the latter through Visa. The cards enable you to withdraw money from almost all ATM machines in France, as well as abroad.
In a survey of such cards carried out by L’Internaute magazine, the cheapest cash card was from Banque Populaire Lorraine Champagne, at a cost of €6.50 per year, whilst the HSBC cost an equally impressive €10. The most expensive was offered through LCL, at a cost of €26 per year. On average, you might expect to pay around €20 a year for such a card.
Carte de Debit
Next up the card chain is the basic bank debit card, either Carte Bleue Nationale, Electron or Maestro. These cards allow you to withdraw cash and pay for goods, provided your account has sufficient funds, or to an agreed limit. Some basic travel, legal and medical insurance cover is also offered with the cards.
The cards may be immediate or deferred debit, (débit immédiat or débit différé). In the latter case you may be given up to 31 days free credit, but the annual cost of the card is higher.
The Carte Bleue or Electron can only be used abroad with either the Visa or MasterCard logo on them, whilst Maestro can always be used as an international card for both payments and withdrawals.
The cheapest deal around for the Carte Bleue seems to be La Banque Postale, with a cost of €30 per year for immediate debit and €37 for deferred debit.
We found rates for Electron and Maestro averaged around €25 per year, with some banks as high as €37 per year.
Our own particular favourite in this group is L’autre Carte from Credit Agricole, an immediate debit card that costs €14.90 per year. However, there is a charge for withdrawing cash from ATMs other than those of Credit Agricole, so use with care.
Most other debits cards allow free withdrawals from competitor machines, but these may be limited to a maximum number per month. You will also be limited to a maximum cash withdrawal per day and/or per week, but this limit is not constrained by the level of funds in your bank account.
The most popular cards are the Carte Bleue Visa, Carte Bleue Classic, or MasterCard. These cards offer cash withdrawals and payment for goods in all countries up to an agreed maximum per day/month.
The cards also offer an enhanced range of other assistance and services, notably travel and medical insurance. The range of the insurance cover offered does differ between the banks and cards, so you need to check precisely what is offered.
The average cost for the cards is around €45 for one offering deferred debit, whilst it is around €10 a year less for immediate debit. The charges made by most banks seemed to be broadly comparable, although in a survey carried out by the consumer body Testerpourvous.com, the Visa card offered by Banque Accord (subsidiary of Auchan) came out cheapest with an annual charge of €25. As a general rule the cards are only offered to those with a regular and stable income.
A number of major retailers have started to offer ‘co-branded’ Visa or MasterCards in collaboration with a bank. These cards are generally good value for money.
The annual charges for a co-branded card are generally less than those for a card from a bank. The former offer a range of discount services and points, and they can also be used for credit facilities. However, cash withdrawals are sometimes charged. Distributors include Carrefour, Auchan, Galeries Lafayette, Nouvelles Frontières, Orange, and Renault.
Carte de Prestige
These are the Cartes Premier and Gold, either Visa Premier or Gold MasterCard. The cards offer high levels of cash withdrawals and payment limits, as well as a broad range of services including insurance, discounted air travel, hotel, holiday and hire car services, legal assistance and medical cover.
The cheapest Visa Premier in our survey was offered by La Banque Postale at €121 per year, whilst the most expensive was Crédit Mutuel at €171 per year.
The cheapest Gold MasterCard was Crédit Agricole at €115, whilst the most expensive was once again Crédit Mutuel at €171 per year.
At the top of the card chain are Visa Infinite and Platinum MasterCard. As well as all the usual features, these cards offer access to a range of VIP services, such as luxury hotel chains, priority taxi reservation, car hire at preferential rates, a personal advisor available 24/7, and comprehensive insurance services.
Expect to pay anything from €150 to €300 a year for such a card, but only those with a high and regular income need apply.
In all cases, you need to examine the other extra costs that may be associated with the cards, such as a replacement pin number, the cost of a second card, or any excess that may be payable in the event of unauthorised use of the card by a third party.
In theory, under EU regulations, the banks should charge you no more for withdrawing euros from a cash machine outside of France than they do within the country, but the reality is often far from what should happen. You need to check with your bank.
You may also find you can obtain a card cheaper than the rates quoted above, provided you take one of the ‘packages’ offered by the bank with a range of services for a fixed lump sum per month/year.
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