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Anyone used "pre-loaded" debit cards?

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Couple of money-related Qs to toss out to the group----we're off to France for three weeks in May-June and are mulling how many payment options we need.

1. Even though Travelers' checks have gone the way of the dinosaur, I still have some AmEx cheques left and wondered about anyone's recent experience cashing them in Paris.

2. I am now the proud owner of an ATM card with a 4-digit PIN to back up my Visa credit card and am mulling the wisdom of adding what my credit union termed a "pre-loaded" debit card (to avoid the possibility that a stolen debit card might wipe out its linked checking account).

Anyone used them?

Apparently they can be used anywhere a Visa can, so I'm uncertain why I wouldn't just use my regular Visa credit card...

Last Qs: how true is it that many of the smaller businesses don't bother with a PIN for a regular debit card (which to me would seem to magnify the possibility of a checking account "drain" if it were stolen)?

Anyone think it's worth opening up a smaller "travel-only" checking account connected with a debit card but not linked to our main account?

Thanks for any input,
Diane

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