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Debit Card Tips

If you’ve reviewed our page comparing debit cards with credit cards and you’ve chosen to use a debit card, check out these tips:

  • Check your balance regularly, daily if possible. Be on the lookout for errors, or charges you don’t recognize.

  • Sign up to receive low balance alerts. Sign up for your debit card company to notify you by text or email when your funds are running low to avoid overdrafts. You may also be able to get alerts to notify you when purchases are made over a certain dollar limit, or outside a particular geographical area.
 
  • Beware costly overdraft fees. Your debit card company will probably offer you an overdraft protection plan. That will allow you to make purchases for more than you have in your account, but you’ll owe the company for the part of the purchase it covered, PLUS a hefty overdraft fee. And you could be charged that fee several times in a single day, every time you make another purchase.
 
  • Link it. One way to avoid overdraft fees is to link your debit card account to your savings account. You may be charged a “transfer fee” when they pull money from your savings to cover your purchase, but it will usually be much less than an overdraft fee. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau reports that most overdraft fees are triggered by purchases of $24 or less, and the median overdraft fee is $34. 
 
  • Be picky about where you use your card. Avoid using your debit card to make purchases online. Experts say there are multiple points along the path of your purchase where your data can be compromised. Use ATMs that are located inside retail stores or other places that are high-traffic areas, and avoid using a debit card to buy gas at the pump. Gas pumps are prime locations for “skimmers.”
 
  • Avoid the skim. A skimmer is a tiny device that fits into the slot where you insert your card. It records the private information on your card as it passes by. Crooks install them in ATMs, gas station pumps, and other machines that accept cards. They may also install tiny pinpoint cameras, aimed at the keypad, so they can steal your PIN as well. If you are victim to one of these scams, the crook could empty your account of all funds in the time it takes you to drive home after your purchase. Look closely at the machine you are about to use. If the card slot looks worn-out, or uneven or crooked, don’t use it.
 
  • Sign for purchases. Instead of using a PIN, you can sign for your purchases. Merchants prefer PINs because they make more money on PIN purchases, but some card companies offer more liability coverage for signed purchases.
 
  • Choose a secure PIN. Don’t use repeated numbers (4444) or consecutive numbers (3456). Commit your PIN to memory rather than carrying it in your purse or wallet, and change it periodically.
 
  • Protect your PIN. When you enter your PIN, use your other hand to block the view. Prevent pinpoint cameras or prying eyes from seeing what you entered.