Visa U.S.A.'S brand of off-line debit card continued to make strides last week as one regional banking company introduced the product and another expanded issuance to two more states.

A "Checkcard" was unveiled in several southeastern states by First Union Corp. on Wednesday. On Friday, First Interstate Bancorp began offering a "Gold Bancard" -- billed as "the card that works like a check" -- to customers in Washington and Alaska.

First Interstate's Oregon bank has issued the cards since 1991. Customers can use the cards anywhere Visa is accepted.

Victories for Visa

Purchases will be authorized like credit card transactions, and amounts will be deducted from checking accounts.

The announcements represent victories for Visa U.S.A. over its rival, MasterCard International. Visa said it now has 13.5 million check cardholders nationwide.

Mastercard estimated 2.5 million of its debit cards have been issued nationally.

In the debit market, unlike in credit cards, banks must make a choice between Visa and Mastercard.

An antitrust settlement forbade the two associations from jointly developing a debit product and required banks wanting to issue both brands to seek prior approval from the state attorneys general who sued to block the joint venture.

Credit card executives say banks tend to choose a debit program based on their historical loyalties to one association over the other.

That has favored Visa, which has about two-thirds of the bank credit card market. Visa, which counts nearly 900 issuers in its debit camp, has passed a rule that bars participants from also issuing a Mastercard debit product.

At last month's American Bankers Association national bank card conference, MasterCard officials argued that allowing some banks to issue both brands would foster competition.

Less Risky to Issuer

Both credit card associations have developed on-line debit products, which are less risky to the issuer because accounts are debited immediately upon presentation of the card with a personal identification number. But these cards are accepted at far fewer locations than the off-line kind, which can be processed on credit card terminals.

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