Moneta Inc., a Charlotte start-up, has started offering a payment system for online purchases that uses only automated clearing house debits, not credit cards.

The system, unveiled Tuesday, will encourage fiscal responsibility, Moneta said.

Customers enroll by providing a checking or money market account number, and they authorize payments by using a PIN.

By acting as an intermediary between the merchant and the customer, Moneta says, its system improves security by masking payment card information.

Also, refusing to accept credit cards discourages consumers from getting into debt, the company says.

The system is similar to Google Inc.'s Checkout, because both hide payment details from merchants, though Checkout allows people to use credit cards.

Moneta said that it charges merchants lower transaction fees than credit card merchant acquirers do to handle payments, and that using only debits lowers the risk of chargebacks.

The payments are processed by CheckFree Corp. and routed through the Federal Reserve Board's FedACH service, Moneta says on its Web site. The company invited CheckFree users by e-mail to enroll in the system.

Several online merchants accept Moneta, including Aloha Airlines, AirTran Airways, ShoeBuy.com, and the electronics retailer TigerDirect.com. Moneta wants to sign up other merchants in the travel industry, and it plans to offer other products and services to address online and offline payments in the coming months.

"The process that exists now" for accepting payments online "is unnecessarily costly for both the consumer and the merchant," Hans Zandhuis, Moneta's president, said in a press release Tuesday. "We want to give all consumers another option so that they can get the goods and services they want without worrying about security or falling into debt."

Other companies already offer online payment systems that do not require customers to disclose a card number. MasterCard Inc., eBay Inc.'s PayPal, and Discover Financial Services LLC are among the customers of Orbiscom Inc., a company that lets consumers generate one-time use card numbers for online purchases.

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