How to Get a Debit Card

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Written By

Reviewed By

Updated on Friday, January 22, 2021

To get a debit card, you’ll generally need to open a deposit account. Debit cards are most commonly associated with checking accounts, but they may also come with a cash management, savings or money market account. The exception is a prepaid debit card, which is not tied to an account and only holds the money you load onto it.

This step-by-step guide on how to get a debit card covers the different types of accounts that may include a debit card and how you can get one.

How to get a debit card step-by-step

A debit card is a card you use to access the money in a certain account, like to make purchases or withdraw money from an ATM. Unlike credit cards, debit cards deduct transaction amounts from the account immediately. Follow the steps below to learn how to apply for a debit card.

Step 1: Choose your account

First, you need to decide on the account that’s right for you. Read up on account fees and features so you can choose the best one for you. If it’s a checking account you’re interested in opening, 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.

We will cover the differences between debit card accounts in more detail below.

Step 2: 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.

Step 3: 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. If you’re opening an account online, you can set up an online transfer from another account.

Step 4: Open an account

Nowadays, you can apply for most bank accounts online, even if it’s not for an online-only account. Smaller, more local institutions may still require you to visit a branch in person to open a debit card account.

Step 5: Request a debit card and load it with funds

Some accounts automatically come with a card, while others require that you request it (more on these account types below). You’ll also want to fund your account, which can usually be done with cash or check, or through another bank account.

Step 6: Activate your debit card

Once you receive your card, you’ll be asked to activate it and set a PIN — a personal identification number that acts as a security code — so that it can be used at an ATM. Make sure to do this immediately. Typically, you can activate the card online, on the bank’s mobile app or by calling the phone number listed on the front or back of the card. After that, your card is ready to use.

How to get a debit card with different bank account types

As you learned in the first step above, you need to choose which account you need to go along with your new debit card. Each account type treats debit cards differently, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with these features before opening an account.

Account typeDebit card features
Checking account
  • Automatically issues a debit card
  • Unlikely to have a limit on the number of debit card transactions
  • Potential to earn rewards
Savings account
  • Doesn’t always come with debit card
  • May have to request debit card
  • Federally limited to six outgoing transactions per month
Money market account
  • More likely than a savings account to have a debit card
  • May have to request debit card
  • Federally limited to six outgoing transactions per month

Checking account debit card

The accounts most commonly associated with debit cards are checking accounts, which almost always automatically include a debit card to provide easy access to the funds in your account. Checking accounts are a good way to safely store money you plan to use in the near future.

Some banks offer a bonus for opening a checking account, and there are also ones that earn rewards. If you’re after debit card 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 or money market account debit card

You can get a debit card with a savings account, although sometimes you will have to request the card rather than have it issued automatically at account opening. Money market accounts are savings accounts that are more likely to issue a debit or ATM card.

However, despite the convenience of a savings account debit card, you’ll need to pay close attention to your transactions. It may not be 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.

Coronavirus pandemic update: In response to the pandemic, the Federal Reserve amended Regulation D to eliminate the six “convenient” withdrawals limitation, effective on April 24, 2020. This amendment allows consumers to more freely access their savings deposits and allows institutions to suspend enforcement of the regulation.

How to get a prepaid debit card

Unlike a regular debit card, a prepaid debit card isn’t linked to a bank account. Instead, you can use only the money that’s currently loaded onto the card. Prepaid debit cards are often 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 overdrafts.

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 added costs. You can even find a few prepaid debit cards that offer rewards.

How to get a debit card as a teenager

If you’re a teenager or a parent of a teen trying to get a debit card, there are several options available. It’s best to look for checking accounts for students or accounts for kids, as these are made for joint ownership between the minor and adult, tend to come with extra features for money management education and often don’t allow overdrafts for further financial safety. The age at which you can get a debit card may vary depending on the account.

How to get a debit card online

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. Just like regular checking accounts, they still come with debit cards and the same level of safety and security when issued by an FDIC-insured institution.

Traditional banks — like Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo — have also expanded into the online world, making most of their deposit accounts available and accessible through their websites. This makes it easier and more convenient to get a debit card online without switching to an online bank.

You can also often apply for a prepaid debit card online, which follows similar application steps as those we outlined above.

Debit cards: What to watch out for

While you shop around for the right debit card to open, there are potential risks to keep in mind before you sign up for an account. Fees and fraud are two such problems that can jeopardize your money, so you’ll want to keep an eye out before and after you have your debit card.

Debit card fees: While debit 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 transactions that would overdraw your account are denied.

Debit card fraud: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.