Debit card use at the point of sale continues to grow, with cardholders who use both PINs and signatures completing more debit transactions than those who use only one method or the other, according to a First Data Corp. study released June 5.

Seventy-four percent of study respondents had used their debit card at the point of sale in the previous 30 days, an increase from 70% of respondents in 2006 and 62% in 2005, according to the "Consumer Payments Usage & Segmentation Study."

"What's interesting here is that there is still room for growth" in converting paper payments to debit cards, says Tony Emrick, general manager of First Data's Star PIN-debit network. "There's a tremendous [number] of checks still being written and lots of cash still for payments."

In the 30 days before the survey, 57% of respondents paid for merchandise with a check, and 92% paid for goods with cash, according to the study.

A consistent result of the annual study is that consumers using both PINs and signatures performed more debit card transactions during the previous 30 days than those using only PINs or signatures, says Emrick. Cardholders using both methods completed 23.3 transactions during the previous month, while PIN-only users completed 12.2 and signature-only users completed 17, according to the study.

Cardholders tend to choose either signature- or PIN-debit as their primary transaction method based on what their financial institution markets to them, says Emrick. "If you're only marketing it as signature-debit, you're kind of limiting its use," he says, adding that many notable institutions push only one form of debit. Issuers achieve more debit transactions by encouraging general debit use without focusing on a single method, says Emrick.

Cardholders' security perceptions also influence their choice of PIN or signature, says Emrick. "The number-one reason consumers said they liked PIN was the same reason they like signature: security," he says.

Fifty-four percent of respondents picked PIN as their primary method, and 38% chose signature, according to the study. Of those who prefer PIN, 44% feel the method is more secure, while 39% of those who prefer signature feel it is more secure.

Greenwood Village, Colo.-based First Data conducted phone interviews with 3,500 adults in November and December 2006 and between October and December 2007 for the study.

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