Debit cards: Know how to use them – National Consumers League

Debit cards are convenient and safer to carry than cash, and they’re more widely accepted by merchants these days than personal checks. But just because they look and feel like a credit card doesn’t mean they work exactly like one, and not understanding the differences could cost you.

Follow this advice, and read NCL’s brochure, Debit cards: Beyond cash and checks

  • Know your balance, and know what overdraft fees you’ll face if your bank lets you withdraw more than you have. When making a purchase with a debit card, make sure there’s enough money in your account to cover it. Deduct debits from the balance in your check register promptly.
  • Don’t forget about checks you’ve already written. Even if they haven’t cleared yet, consider that money gone.
  • Know if there’s a cost for using the card. Some card issuers charge monthly or even per-transaction fees that are automatically deducted from your account.
  • Notify the issuer immediately if the cost is lost or stolen. Under federal law, the amount you could lose if someone uses your debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss once you discover it. Your card issuer may have “zero” liability policies that give you extra protections.