Through geographic expansion, stepped-up advertising, and the courting of new merchants, Magic Line Inc. expects to increase point of sale debit transactions by 100% next year.

The Dearborn, Mich.-based automated teller machine network, which brought in a new top management team earlier this year after calling off merger talks with neighboring network Cash Station Inc., is following through with announced plans to expand the range of electronic banking services it provides.

Currently, Magic Line is one of the top 10 regional networks in the United States with eight million cardholders who conducted nearly half a million POS transactions last year. The network recently upgraded its computer systems to support its planned growth in debit transactions.

Magic Line said that it is expanding ML Pay beyond Michigan, where it originated, and into Indiana and Kentucky.

ML Pay allows customers to buy goods and services electronically using their ATM card and a personal identification number.

"Recent market research shows that customers want a more convenient way to pay for purchases, without the worry of carrying large sums of money or credit cards, or the hassle of waiting for check-cashing approvals," said John G. Bascom, president and chief executive officer of Magic Line.

Currently, more than 2,200 retail locations in the Midwest offer on-line acceptance - mostly food stores and gas stations. Magic Line is now wooing other merchants, particularly general merchandisers.

To this end, Magic Line has joined up with Kmark to test debit card payments in two or three stores in southeastern Michigan. The network plans to add more retailers, though no specific plans are yet in the works.

"We're showing the merchants that consumers want this payment option," said David A. Lind, chief operating officer of Magic Line.

According to POS News, a Chicago-based newsletter, the number of monthly on-line debit transactions in the United States grew 59% in the year ended in June. This dwarfs the average growth rate of 34% for the five previous years.

For the more than 700 Magic Line member banks, ML Pay is a way to add value to an existing ATM card by providing a safe, fast way for consumers to purchase goods and services.

To educate both merchants and consumers on debit card usage, Magic Line is running television commercials that extol the cards.

The network points out that for merchants, debit card transactions eliminate the need to count, sort, and handle money, thus allowing checkout lines to move more quickly, decreasing security problems, and reducing operating costs.

For consumers, security and safety is also emphasized: By using the cards, consumers can avoid carrying large amounts of cash.

"We will continue to promote ML Pay to both merchants and customers," said Mr. Lind. "We're going to continue to try to put this in people's minds."

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