Is an ATM Card a Debit Card?

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A debit card is convenient to use.
A debit card is convenient to use. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

While you can get money from an ATM with your card, your ATM card is also often a debit card and can be used in a variety of situations. For all practical purposes, a debit card functions just like a credit card. In fact, when you pull it out, no one will know the difference. You'll find that it's considerably more convenient than writing checks.

Getting a Debit Card

To get a debit card so that you can access the ATM and easily make online purchases, open a checking account at a bank. Look for a bank that does not charge fees for checking accounts. You'll likely need to deposit a minimum amount -- $100 or so -- in order to open the account. You'll also need to show photo identification such as a driver's license or passport. Ask the banker for the paperwork you need to fill out in order to receive a debit card. Often, you'll get one automatically, but it's a good idea to make sure. It may take two or three weeks for you to receive your card.

Advantages

Once you have a debit card, you'll enjoy the convenience it offers beyond being able to get cash from an ATM machine. You can use a debit card in the same manner as you would a credit card, paying for everything from a soda at the corner store to ordering flowers for your girlfriend using an online merchant. You won't have to worry about going into debt when you use a debit card, as the money you spend comes directly from your account.

Disadvantages

Debit cards can get you into deep water financially if you don't keep track of your money. It is easy to spend money and lose track of where it goes when you use a debit card, rather than checks, for your purchases. Register for online banking so that you can check your balance and purchase history at any time in order to avoid nasty surprises, which often take the form of overdraft fees for exceeding your bank balance. Keep in mind that debit cards don't necessarily come with the same theft protection as credit cards. Call your bank immediately if your card goes missing.

ATM Cards That Aren't Debit Cards

While the majority of ATM cards function as debit cards, check with your bank before making any assumptions. A few banks continue to offer cards that only work at an ATM or may give the customer a choice between an ATM card and a card that functions as both an ATM card and a debit card. You'll likely want the convenience of a debit card, so make sure your bank offers that option to its customers before opening an account.

Using Your Debit Card Safely

Since you won't be reimbursed if your debit card gets stolen, take precautions to prevent this from happening. Sign the back of your card as soon as you receive it, and keep your card where you keep your cash. Make a copy of it so that you'll have the number in the event it is lost or stolen. When banking at an ATM, make sure the ATM is in a well-lighted public area and that individuals cannot see your personal identification number, or PIN, the password you use to access your money.

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