Visa U.S.A. proclaimed its debit card No. 1 on Wednesday, saying 10.5 million consumers were carrying visa Debit as of June 30.

The San Mateo, Calif.-based association said the cardholder total grew 22% from 8.6 million a year earlier.

Another 12.5 million U.S. consumers reportedly have cards bearing Visa's other debit mark, Interlink, which allows automated teller cards to be used at retailing locations.

Well Ahead of Competition

Visa claimed its total for both cards - 23 million - is 14 times more than the debit total of its rival, MasterCard International.

But a spokesman for MasterCard said it members have issued 1.9 million Master Debit cards - one-twelfth of 23 million. Another 450,000 cards have been issued under the Maestro program, MasterCard's answer to Interlink.

Unlike Interlink, Maestro is also active outside the United States, with more than 12 million holders.

Strong Potential

The card groups view debit cards, which tap funds in consumer deposit accounts, as a potentially strong and emerging product at a time when credit card growth is slowing.

MasterCard launched Maestro late last year. Interlink, which was purchased by Visa last fall, was founded by four California banks seven years ago.

Both systems are "on-line," designed to move funds into a retailer's account instantaneously. Master Debit and Visa Debit are "off-line," meaning there is a delay in the movement of cash similar to that in a credit card sale.

Visa, which considers Visa Debit its premier debit product, attributed its growth to new member banks.

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