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Debit cards are a must-have for many consumers today. They’re more widely accepted than checks, safer than carrying around large sums of cash and, unlike credit cards, don’t land you in debt (unless you overdraft).
Luckily, getting a debit card with a checking account, prepaid debit card or even a savings account can be simple. This step-by-step guide on how to get a debit card covers the different types of accounts and how you can get one.
Decide what kind of account you need
There are many ways to get a debit card. The best option for you will depend on your financial situation and goals.
- Checking account: This is a good way to safely store money you plan to use in the near future. A checking account from a bank almost always comes with one of these cards that gives you easy access to those funds. Some banks offer a bonus for opening a checking account, and there are also ones that earn rewards. If you’re after bonuses and rewards, keep in mind that these accounts often come with higher fees. Your local credit union is also a great option for a checking account — and debit card — with minimal fees. Plus, it’s smart to build a relationship with a credit union as you might want to use it for other financial needs in the future, such as a low-interest credit card, personal loan or mortgage.
- Savings account: Some savings accounts and money market accounts will give you a debit or ATM card that allows you to make purchases and withdrawals using your savings. However, this option isn’t ideal for most people since Federal Reserve Regulation D limits savings accounts to six transactions per month. Exceeding that limit could result in fees or your account being closed.
- Online bank account: Online banks operate without brick-and-mortar locations. Because they have fewer overhead costs, high-yield online checking accounts often have higher APYs and lower fees than traditional banks.
- Prepaid debit card: It is possible for a financial institution to reject you for a checking account, usually because you have outstanding debt or banking fees from a prior account. Prepaid debit cards don’t require a bank account, and you can load money directly on the card with cash.
- Debit card for teens: If you’re looking to get a debit card for your teen, look into debit cards and checking accounts specifically geared toward teens and students, which tend to come with lower fees and may not allow overdrafts.
Step-by-step guide on how to get a debit card
Now that you know what you want, follow these steps to open an account and get a debit card.
- Research account features: Read up on account fees and features so you can choose the best one for you. Look for low-fee or fee-free checking accounts with low minimum balance requirements. Also seek out convenient features, such as mobile banking and online bill pay.
- Gather necessary documents: If you’re opening a bank account, you’ll likely need to provide two forms of identification. These can include a passport, driver’s license, state identification card, birth certificate or Social Security card. Some banks will allow you to provide one form of identification and a bill addressed to you.
- Bring funds to deposit: Most banks will require a minimum opening deposit to open an account, which tends to range from $25 to $100. This money goes into your account, and you can use it immediately.
- Open an account: You’ll need to go to the bank or credit union to open an account in most cases. However, online checking accounts may allow you to open one through the bank’s website.
- Request a debit card and load it with funds: Some accounts automatically come with a card, while others will require that you request it. You’ll also want to fund your account, which can usually be done with cash or check, or through another bank account.
- Activate your debit card: Once you receive your card, you’ll be asked to activate it and set a PIN so that it can be used at an ATM. Make sure to do this immediately. After that, your card is ready to use.
How to get a prepaid debit card
Unlike a regular debit card, a prepaid debit card isn’t linked to a bank account. It’s useful for people who have difficulty getting approved for a bank account. They usually can’t be overdrawn, making them a good option if you’re prone to this.
You can purchase and reload prepaid debit cards at many grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores using cash or check — and sometimes direct deposit. Many come with activation, monthly, ATM and deposit fees, but the best prepaid debit cards minimize those. You can even find a few prepaid debit cards that offer rewards.
Things to remember when you have a debit card
While these cards are secure and convenient, they can also rack up fees if you aren’t careful. Pay close attention to ATM fees, which can be charged by both your card issuer and the ATM owner. Most debit cards come with a network of ATMs you can use fee-free, so stick to those. Overdraft fees can also add up quickly if you don’t pay attention to your balance. To avoid these altogether, ask your bank to set up your account so that transactions that would overdraw your account are denied.
Fraud is always a threat with debit cards, from data breaches at places you’ve shopped to ATM skimmers, who use hidden devices to skim your card information from an ATM you’ve used. With credit cards, you’re only liable for up to $50 of fraudulent charges, but with debit cards you can be held liable for $500 or more.
Keep your card information safe by visiting easily visible ATMs in high traffic areas and always covering your hand while you enter your PIN. Keep your account information and PIN private, and avoid disclosing it over the phone or through email. If you shop online, don’t make purchases while connected to public Wi-Fi.
What is a rewards debit card?
Rewards debit cards offer points or cash back in exchange for every dollar you spend. The cashback cards typically deposit your earnings directly in your account, while the points-earning cards offer points that can be exchanged for travel, merchandise and more. These types of debit cards can be tempting, but they often come with annual or monthly fees that can outweigh the rewards you earn.
As with anything, the key to getting a debit card successfully is doing your research beforehand and selecting the best option for your needs. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be on your way to faster, more secure payments in no time.