Debit cards are a convenient way to access your cash. They can be used in-store, online or at an ATM. If you’re considering a debit card or will be getting one soon, this guide will help you understand how they work, how they differ from credit cards and the various types of debit cards to choose from. You’ll also learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of using a debit card and a way to get a line of credit that links directly to your credit card and doesn’t require a credit check to get started.
Debit Cards at a Glance
A debit card can be used to make purchases – either in-store or online – using the funds in a linked account. Some debit cards also allow you to make cash withdrawals from your checking or savings account.
How Do Debit Cards Work?
When you swipe your debit card at the point of sale, input your card information online to make a purchase or initiate an ATM withdrawal, the funds will be pulled directly from the linked account if the transaction is approved. But you must have enough funds available to make the purchase or withdrawal, or it will be rejected unless overdraft protection is enabled and you have opted in to use the service.
How is a Debit Card Different from a Credit Card?
Both debit cards and credit can be used to make purchases. And in some instances, credit card issuers allow cash advances through ATM withdrawals (subject to a fee). Still, there’s a key difference between the two. A debit card requires you to have the funds on hand when you swipe it. By contrast, a credit card lets you borrow the money you need to make the purchase – up to the credit limit – and pay it back later over time with interest. (Or you can repay what you spend on your credit card in full before the statement period ends to avoid interest charges).
Furthermore, you can’t build credit with a debit card. But with a credit card, the issuer will typically report account activity to the credit bureaus each month, and this information will be added to your credit report.
Types of Debit Cards
There are four types of debit cards to be aware of:
- Standard debit cards: Most financial institutions issue this type of debit card when you open a checking or money market account. It can be used to make purchases or ATM withdrawals, and the funds are pulled directly from your account. Some banks and credit unions also allow you to make cash and check deposits using your debit card at their ATMs.
- ATM-only debit cards: If you have a savings account and want to make ATM withdrawals, you can request an ATM-only debit card from your financial institution. Although they can’t be used to make purchases, ATM-only debit cards make it easier to access cash from your savings account when needed.
- Prepaid debit cards: These debit cards are commonly used by unbanked consumers, or you may receive a prepaid debit card as a gift. Either way, you should know that while they operate like standard debit cards, they aren’t connected to a traditional checking account. Instead, you’ll need to deposit funds onto the card before you can use it to make purchases or ATM withdrawals. But if you receive a prepaid debit card as a gift, it will already have funds loaded, and the card may have re-loading capabilities if you wish to continue using it once the funds are depleted. Be mindful that prepaid debit cards often come with fees that could reduce your available balance.
- Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) debit cards: If you receive help from the government to buy food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), you’ve likely already received an EBT debit card. Funds are loaded onto the card once a month, and you can use the card at participating grocery stores to buy what you need. Purchases are restricted to food items, and the card cannot be used to make ATM withdrawals.
What are the Benefits of Using a Debit Card?
- You don’t have to carry cash. It’s easy to misplace cash, and once it’s gone, there’s nothing you can do about it. But if you lose your debit card, you can contact the issuer and request a replacement. (Note: This may not be an option for some prepaid debit cards).
- Enhanced security features. EMV chips were recently introduced to make transactions more secure, followed by the tap-to-pay function. So, you no longer need to insert your debit card into the reader to make a purchase. Instead, you can simply tap it or set up a virtual card on your mobile device and tap it against the reader when prompted to complete the transaction.
- You can make ATM withdrawals 24/7. You don’t have to wait for the bank to open to pull cash from your account. Instead, you can use your debit card or ATM card to make a withdrawal.
- You won’t rack up debt. Funds are immediately withdrawn from your account, so it won’t be necessary to pay the card issuer at a later date for what you’ve spent. Plus, you’ll avoid racking up excessive debt and spending a fortune in interest if you’re unable to repay what you borrow right away.
Are There Risks to Using a Debit Card?
- Your card could be stolen and used by a fraudster. Unfortunately, a compromised card also means you’ll be financially responsible for the losses. Your liability is capped at $50 within two business days and $500 within 60 calendar days. But after this window has passed, there is no liability protection.
- You could incur hefty fees if you overspend. If your debit card transactions exceed the available balance in your checking account, you’ll likely incur overdraft fees from your bank or credit union for each occurrence. Expect to pay between $30 and $36 per occurrence.
- Other fees could stretch your budget thin. If your finances are already tight, the last thing you need is a debit card that comes with an assortment of fees. But the reality is some financial institutions and debit card issuers charge monthly maintenance fees and out-of-network ATM fees. You may also be hit with a card replacement fee if your card is stolen or you misplace it. And if you travel abroad, you can also expect to incur a foreign transaction fee between 1 percent and 3 percent per purchase or ATM withdrawal you make unless it’s not applicable with the debit card issuer. There’s also the transaction fee you may encounter at the point of sale if you’re making a small purchase.
How to Use a Debit Card
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of how to use a debit card online, at an ATM or in stores.
- Step 1: Choose “debit card” as your form of payment.
- Step 2: Input your debit card number, expiration date and three-digit CVV code found on the back of the card.
- Step 3: Enter your billing address and select the option to complete the purchase.
- Step 1: Insert your debit card into the ATM.
- Step 2: Enter your PIN.
- Step 3: Select the amount you’d like to withdraw or deposit (if allowed), and complete the transaction.
- Step 4: Retrieve your receipt and debit card.
If you wish to use the tap-to-pay function to pay, simply tap your card or phone against the card reader when prompted to complete the transaction. Otherwise, here’s what to do:
- Step 1: Swipe or insert your card (if you have an EMV chip).
- Step 2. Select debit and enter your PIN.
- Step 3: Approve the purchase amount to complete the transaction.
Get a Line of Credit Using Your Debit Card
A debit card can make life easier when you’re always on the go. But what happens when you have an unexpected expense or find yourself low on funds before your next payday? Instead of resorting to high-interest credit cards or borrowing from family and friends, consider Grain.
It’s a virtual line of credit that’s based on your cash flow, so you could get approved even if you don’t have perfect credit. You can access up to $1,000 at the tap of a fingertip while continuing to use your debit card as you normally would.