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- A debit card withdraws money directly from your checking account, either to make a payment or to convert into cash.
- Once you have a checking account, getting a debit card is as simple as asking for one.
- To use a debit card, you’ll need a checking account and a PIN number.
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A debit card withdraws money directly from your checking account, either to make a payment or to convert into cash.
Because a debit card is connected to your checking account, the money is immediately deducted as you spend, and you don’t build balances that incur interest charges like you would on a credit card.
However, you also don’t earn rewards like you would with a credit card, you don’t get the time to pay off your balance like you would with a credit card, and you don’t build credit like you would with a credit card. Using a debit card to make a payment is almost exactly like using cash, just with an electronic transaction and record of your purchase.
Most checking accounts automatically come with debit cards, so you can withdraw cash from an ATM. Here’s how to get one:
How to get a debit card
1. Open a checking account
Checking accounts can be easily opened at a bank or credit union, although some may have a minimum open balance requirement — the amount of money you must store there in order to keep the account open without paying fees to the bank. Be prepared to put money in the account immediately.
Some checking accounts might also have activity requirements, which dictate how often you must be depositing money or using the account in order to avoid paying fees. Also, you’ll probably want to choose a bank or credit union with a wide network of ATMs in your area, which you should be able to use to withdraw cash without paying fees.
You will need to complete paperwork and some type of application to open a checking account. Typically, several forms of valid identification are needed, which could include a combination of driver’s license, passport and/or Social Security card. People under are 18 may need an adult to co-sign on the account.
2. Ask for your debit card
When you are opening your checking account, tell the banking representative you would like a debit card to be linked to your account. It may take a week for the card to arrive in the mail. In some cases, you may be given a temporary card to use until the official one is generated.
3. Activate your debit card
When you receive your debit card, it will need to be activated, which is as simple as visiting a website or calling the bank’s dedicated phone number. When you get your card in the mail, it will comes with directions on how exactly to activate it. It must be activated before it can be used.
If activating the debit card online, be sure to use a secure internet connection. Don’t activate your debit card on a public Wi-Fi connection like in a coffee shop.
4. Create a PIN (Personal Identification Number)
A PIN is simple a password you use to verify transactions through your debit card.
Although your debit card may arrive with a pre-set PIN, you can select your own PIN, and you can generally change it during the activation process. Like any other password, your PIN should be kept private; it provides access to important services like the ability to withdraw cash, change personal information, and more. Unlike most passwords, a PIN is numeric only — there are no letters or special characters in a PIN.
Because PINs protect sensitive information (and your cash), you’ll want to choose a PIN that is not predictable should your debit card be lost. The Balance has some good guidelines to remember when choosing a PIN.
- Simple number sequences like 1234 or 0000 (including repetition: 1122 or 2233)
- Dates, such as your birth year or spouse’s birthday
- Any part of your Social Security Number
- Any part of your address or phone number
5. Figure out where you should use your debit card
While you can generally use a debit card at any ATM, you’ll usually have to pay a fee for the privilege of using one that isn’t affiliated with the bank or credit union that issued the debit card.
This is more of an issue with traditional banks; some new online banks reimburse you for debit card fees up to a certain amount. If your bank does that, it will tell you upfront.
Ideally, you’ll want to choose an ATM that does not charge a fee (which is why you took this into consideration in Step 1). Even $1 or $2 at a time adds up. Plus, why should you have to pay to access your money?
If there is a fee, make sure to check your statement to ensure the fee was charged correctly. Also, be aware that this fee is deducted from your checking account balance — you can’t opt out of paying the fee.
6. Act quickly if your debit card is lost or stolen
Because your debit card pulls funds directly from your checking account, it’s important to take swift action if your card is lost or stolen. The quicker you can have your bank or credit union cancel the card, the less opportunity someone has to use your card to make purchases or withdraw cash.
"Pick up the phone," says Joshua Hastings, founder of Money Life Wax. "Call your financial institution to notify them it has been lost or stolen. Your financial institution will cancel your existing card and replace it; this typically takes 10-14 business days."
You’ll also want to monitor your checking account closely to make sure no one is using your card who shouldn’t be.
- Read more about managing your money:
- How to cancel a credit card
- How to check your credit score
- How to cash a money order
- How to get a loan
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