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How to Get a Debit Card

Before you can get a debit card, you'll need to first open a checking account.

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Debit cards can help you avoid the scariest aspect of credit cards: accruing debt. With a debit card, you’ll know exactly what you can afford and only spend the money available in your checking account. 

When you open a checking account, you’ll typically receive a debit card that you can use for different financial transactions, including shopping online or in stores, paying your bills and withdrawing money from an ATM. 

Getting a debit card is relatively simple, but the process may vary slightly depending on the bank or credit union. You’ll first need to provide some basic personal information and documentation. 

How to get a debit card

Unless you’re getting a prepaid debit card or ATM access through another type of account, you have to open a checking account to receive a debit card, which typically requires a minimum deposit and your personal identification information. Though checking accounts come with fewer incentives and benefits when compared to savings accounts, certificates of deposit or money market accounts, they serve an essential purpose: it’s a convenient way to park your cash safely and access it regularly.

When browsing banks or credit unions, you’ll want to consider fees, minimal deposit requirements and available banking services. You’ll also want to consider whether or not you prefer an online bank or an established traditional bank with brick-and-mortar locations near you. Once you land on a bank or credit union, here’s what you need to do next: 

1. Open a checking account

When you find a bank or credit union you like, you can open a checking account online or in person. You’ll need to provide basic information, including your full name, address and Social Security number, along with a government-issued ID such as a driver’s license or passport. Some banks may request additional documentation, such as proof of income or a utility bill. If you’re under 18, you may need a parent or guardian to co-sign on the account.

2. Request a debit card

Once you’ve provided all the required information and documentation, the bank will open your checking account and mail you a debit card. (You might have to request a debit card if your bank or credit union doesn’t automatically issue one.) If you opened the account in person, the bank or credit union may provide a debit card the same day.

3. Activate your debit card

You can activate your debit card online or by calling the number on the back of your card. You may be prompted to set a PIN (personal identification number), typically a four-digit number you have as an added security measure. You may be asked to provide your PIN before making a transaction or using an ATM. 

How to add a debit card to a digital wallet

If your debit card is compatible with your digital wallet, you can use your phone to tap and pay at participating merchants. If you use Apple Pay, for example, you can add your debit card by opening the app, selecting the Add icon in the top-right corner of the screen and tapping Debit or Credit Card. The app will prompt you to scan your physical card and enter your banking information.

You’ll need to verify your information with your bank before getting authorized to use Apple Pay. Once your debit card is approved, you can begin making contactless purchases using your device at participating businesses.

How to get cash from an ATM

You can pull cash from your checking account at an ATM with your debit card. If you withdraw cash from an ATM not associated with your bank, you may be hit with an out-of-network fee, which includes a charge from your bank as well as a surcharge from the ATM operator. Out-of-network ATM fees are, on average, $4.66 per transaction, according to CNET’s sister site Bankrate. For example, if you bank with Chase, but withdraw money from an ATM unaffiliated with Chase, you’ll be charged from $3 to $5 per withdrawal. 

What if my debit card is lost or stolen?

If you lose or misplace your debit card, contact your bank or credit union right away. They will deactivate your old card and issue a replacement. You may also be able to lock or freeze your debit card directly from your bank’s online account or mobile app. This can come in handy if you locate your card later and don’t need a replacement. 

If your debit card is stolen, report it on your bank’s mobile app or call your bank immediately. You won’t be liable for any unauthorized charges made without your permission -- as long as they are made after you report your card lost. Under federal law, if you report your card lost or stolen within two days, you’re only liable for any unauthorized charges up to $50. After two days, you’re liable for unauthorized charges up to $500. If you wait more than 60 days to report the card as stolen, you’ll be liable for all unauthorized charges.

Do debit cards have fees?

Debit cards typically aren’t associated with as many fees as credit cards, but you may run across the following fees:

  • ATM fees: You may get hit with an out-of-network fee if you withdraw money from an ATM not associated with your bank. This often comes as two fees -- one from the bank, and another from the ATM’s operator. In some cases, your checking account may waive the fee or reimburse you up to a certain amount. You can avoid ATM fees by using an in-network ATM. Or, if you just need a few extra dollars for your wallet, ask for cash back when making a purchase at a grocery or drug store. 
  • Monthly maintenance fees: Because your debit card is tied to a checking account, your bank may charge monthly service fees. Before you open your account, check to see what fees the bank may charge and for which services. If they are services you think you may use often, consider finding a different institution.
  • Foreign transaction fees: When you use your card to make purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM outside the US, you might be charged an additional foreign transaction fee. These fees can add up if you travel abroad frequently, ranging from 1% to 3% of the transaction. You can avoid foreign transaction fees by using a credit card that doesn’t have those charges. 
  • Overdraft fees: These punitive fees happen whenever you overdraw your account. If you spend money you don’t have, the bank may pull it from another account to fund the transaction, and it’ll also hit you with an additional fee. Many banks have done away with these fees because they typically prey on low-income account holders.

Alternatives to debit cards

Setting yourself up with a debit card is pretty straightforward, though you don’t necessarily need a traditional checking account to manage your money. Here are a few alternatives to consider:

  • Prepaid cards: Prepaid cards function like debit cards but aren’t linked to a checking account. Instead, you load funds onto the card online or for a fee at participating retailers such as grocery stores and gas stations. 
  • Cash: Walking around with cash may seem passe and risky, but having a few bills in your pocket can come in handy.
  • Credit cards: If you want to build your credit score or get more extensive fraud liability protections, a credit card is a better option. Instead of drawing the funds from your checking account when you make a purchase, with a credit card you’re borrowing funds against a line of credit. The purchases you make with a debit card won’t help your credit score because you’re not borrowing any money that you have to pay back.

The bottom line

Debit cards have certain perks that credit cards don’t, namely fewer fees and less risk of accumulating debt from spending too much. But be aware of any overdraft fees your bank may charge if you withdraw beyond the amount available in your checking account.


Debit cards come free with most checking accounts, but you might have to pay a minimum deposit in order to open the account itself.

Unless you open a joint account with a parent or guardian, you’ll typically need to be 18 to open your own checking account and get a debit card.

Correction: An earlier version of this article was assisted by an AI engine and it mischaracterized some aspects of debit cards. Those points were all corrected. This version has been substantially updated by a staff writer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Liliana Hall is a writer for CNET Money covering banking, credit cards and mortgages. Previously, she wrote about personal credit for Bankrate and She is passionate about providing accessible content to enhance financial literacy. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in journalism, and has worked in the newsrooms of KUT and the Austin Chronicle. When not working, she is probably paddle boarding, hopping on a flight or reading for her book club.
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