Your Debit Card Guide

Debit cards look like credit cards or ATM (automated teller machine) cards, but operate like cash or personal cheques. A debit card directly accesses the money deposited in your bank account. 

What you should know about debit cards:

Which One is Best For Me? 

Using a debit card saves you from carrying cash or writing cheques.

  • Using a debit card means you no longer have to stock up on travellers cheques or cash when you travel.
  • The debit card is a quick, “pay now” product; and the amount of your purchase is deducted directly from your bank account. Make sure you have the money available to cover the full transaction amount at the time you make your purchase.
  • As with credit cards, you can dispute unauthorized charges or other mistakes within the time period set by the bank that issues your card. If a problem cannot be resolved with the merchant, you should contact the card-issuing bank. 

More than an ATM card 

Different debit cards may have different features. Some may be just an ATM card. Others may also be used for point-of-sale purchases at local merchants and even internationally. 

Do you have a debit card?

You may not realize that you have a debit card. Some banks may be replacing their standard ATM cards with one that has a debit feature. This means that you can use your debit card at any merchant outlet that displays your card brand’s name or logo.

Debit vs. credit

Debit means ‘subtract’. When you use a debit card, you are subtracting money from your own bank account. Debit cards allow you to spend only what is in your bank account. Credit means money is made available to you by a bank or other financial institution, e.g. a loan. The amount the issuer allows you to use is determined by your credit history, income, debts and ability to pay. You may use the credit with the understanding that you must repay the charges, plus interest, if you do not pay the amount in full each month. 

Before you use a debit card

  • Know whether it is a credit or a debit card. Ask the card issuer about your options. Understand what kind of debit card the bank is giving you. Choose one that best matches your lifestyle and habits.
  • Know if there are fees applied to your using the card. Some financial institutions charge a monthly fee or a per-transaction fee. Others do not. These fees are set by the card issuer and will be disclosed to consumers.
  • Know about your liability for the unauthorized use, theft or loss of your debit card. Ask whether the issuer has any special liability policies and how they work.
  • Know how problems with non-delivery, defective merchandise or mis- representation will be handled. This is especially important when you use a debit card to purchase goods or services for future delivery, rather than on a “cash and carry” basis. Ask the issuer about its policies for these types of disputes. 

Tips for using debit cards responsibly 

  • If you suspect your card is being used fraudulently, report so to your bank or financial institution immediately.
  • Take your receipts after you make purchases. Do not leave them for others to see.
  • If you have a PIN, memorize it. Do not keep your PIN with your card. Also, do not choose a PIN that a thief could figure out, such as your phone number or birthday.
  • Never give your PIN to anyone. Keep your PIN private.
  • Always know how much money you have available in your account. If your debit card is linked to your savings account or current account, do not forget to consider money that you have set aside to cover a cheque that has not yet been cleared by your bank.

Deduct debits and any transaction fees from the balance in your cheque register immediately. 

If you lose your debit card 

In the event that your debit card is lost or stolen, report so to your bank or financial institution immediately. Check with them about their liability policies. You also need to know the extent of protection available to you. If a problem arises, remember that it is your money that is at stake. You need to be careful in order to prevent unauthorized use of your card or card number.

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