What is a debit card, and how do I get one? Debit cards can unlock many of the benefits of your checking account. July 7, 2023 If you’re taking your first steps toward financial independence, it’s the perfect time to get acquainted with the debit card. So let’s dive into what a debit card is, how to use a debit card, and how to get a debit card for yourself. What is a debit card? A debit card is a physical form of payment—meaning it’s a card you can actually hold in your hand—typically connected to a checking account. It’s possible to link a debit card to a money market account, a savings account, or another cash account, but linking it to a checking account is the most common. You can use a debit card to pay for things in person and online or to withdraw cash directly from your account via an ATM. Whether you’re making a purchase or withdrawing cash with your debit card, the money is immediately drawn (that is, debited) from your account. What’s the difference between a debit card and a credit card? Debit cards and credit cards look similar, but there are some important differences between debit cards and credit cards that you should keep in mind: Where the money comes from A debit card pays for transactions with money you already have in an account, while a credit card effectively picks up the tab and sends you a bill later. After buying something with your debit card, your account balance will decrease by the amount you just paid almost immediately. With a credit card, your credit balance is how much you’ll eventually need to pay back to the credit card company, while your available credit is how much you have left to spend before you reach your credit limit. When you purchase something with your credit card, your credit balance will increase by that amount, and your remaining available credit will decrease in tandem. Spending limits With a debit card, you can only spend as much as you have in your account. Credit cards, by contrast, are effectively lending you money to spend. Credit card companies don’t want you to spend more than you can eventually pay back, so they cap how much money you can spend. This is known as your credit limit. Costs and fees The most common fees associated with a debit card are minimum balance fees (when your balance falls below a required amount) and overdraft fees (when you don’t have enough money in your account to pay for your debit card transactions). Credit cards don’t have those fees, but you can incur other fees if you don’t pay your total monthly credit balance on time each month. That’s because you’ll start accumulating interest on any balances not paid in full by the end of the billing cycle. The longer it takes to pay off your balance, the more you’ll end up owing in interest. Do money market accounts have debit cards? Some, but not all, money market accounts offer debit cards. Money market accounts typically earn interest and are Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured, but they can also offer some of the features of a checking account. Money market accounts like the Discover Money Market Account provide customers with debit cards to use for purchases or at ATMs. How does a debit card work? Debit cards are versatile. When you know how to use a debit card, you can get the most out of: ATM withdrawals Debit cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash from your account. Simply insert or tap the card, type in your PIN, and select how much money you want to withdraw. Some banks and ATMs may charge fees if you use your card with an unaffiliated financial institution, so make sure you know which ATMs are free for you to use. In-person transactions Similar to a credit card, you can use your debit card in person at a cash register. Depending on your card type, you will either swipe, insert, or tap your debit card and enter your PIN to make your purchase. You’re probably used to seeing debit cards used this way at stores, restaurants, and even in taxis. Online purchases Debit cards can also be used for buying things online. However, when you place an order online, you typically need to enter more information since you can’t swipe your card. That information can include your card number, expiration date, security code, billing address, and possibly other verification information. What are the benefits of a debit card? There’s a reason that a debit card is a staple in so many people’s wallets. Debit cards come with a number of benefits: Convenience. It’s a lot easier to use a debit card to buy things and withdraw money than it is to write checks. Security. Your money is typically protected by FDIC insurance. (Check with your bank.) And many banks will send you a fraud alert if any suspicious activity is detected. Rewards. In the past, credit cards have been known for having better rewards than debit cards. However, in recent years, some debit cards have stepped up their game, offering cash back in exchange for using the card. You can use a debit card to pay for things in person and online or withdraw cash directly from your account via ATMs. What are typical debit card fees? You won’t pay interest on the transactions you make with your debit card, but you need to be aware of common debit card fees and how to avoid them: Overdraft fees. If your bank doesn’t offer overdraft protection, this is a fee to keep an eye on. That’s because if you accidentally spend more money than you have in your linked account, your bank may charge you an overdraft fee. ATM fees. Using ATMs outside of your bank’s ATM network may result in transaction fees that will be deducted from your linked account. Maintenance fees. Some banks charge account maintenance fees if your minimum balance falls below a certain amount. According to a 2022 Bankrate study, the average monthly maintenance fee for noninterest-earning checking accounts that charge this fee was $5.44. While the above fees can dwindle your account balance, they can often be avoided by checking your balance, keeping an eye on your spending, and using the right ATMs. How to get a debit card To get a debit card for yourself, follow these steps: Research financial institutions There are a lot of banks with different fees, ATM networks, and rewards, so be sure to assess your options. Some banks may offer certain perks for opening a new account or using your debit card regularly, while others may have more flexible options that allow you to avoid fees.Open an account with your financial institution of choice Regardless of where you open it, you can’t have a debit card without some sort of bank account—such as a checking or a money market account—tied to your debit card. Once you’ve chosen a bank, open a checking account or money market account with them.Activate your debit card When you receive your card, it should come with instructions on how to activate it. This typically involves calling a phone number or going online. Earn cash back with your debit card Learn More Discover Bank, Member FDIC More and more people are using debit cards and other digital forms of payment to make purchases. According to a 2022 study by the Pew Research Center, roughly 40% of Americans say that in a typical week, none of their purchases are made with cash. This number has increased by 12% since 2018. Now that you know how to get a debit card, you can more easily make digital payments, too. How old do you have to be to get a debit card? You can usually be any age to have and use a debit card, but if you’re under 18, you’ll need a legal guardian to open the linked account for you. A debit card is a first step toward financial freedom Getting your first debit card may seem intimidating, but once you find the card that’s right for you, it’s a breeze. In fact, there are many perks to having a debit card—especially if you know how to use a debit card to your benefit. If you’re looking for a card that gives you free access to over 60,000 ATMs, no fees, and awesome rewards like 1% cash back, then Discover Cashback Debit could be for you. Articles may contain information from third parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information. Share article on facebook. Share article on twitter. Share article on linked in. Share article on facebook. Share article on twitter. Share article on linked in.