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How to Get a Debit Card

Sign up for a checking account.

Unidentified woman is facing an ATM with her back out while she takes out money.
Westend61/Getty Images

When you sign up for a checking account, you'll receive a debit card that will let you make transactions, online and in stores, and access your account from an ATM. Opening a checking account is relatively simple; you'll need to provide some basic personal information and documentation to the bank or credit union. Read on for more information about how to get and manage a debit card.

How to get a debit card

Debit cards are linked to a checking account that's associated with a bank or credit union. To get a debit card, you must open a checking account, provide personal identification information and, typically, make a minimum deposit. Once you receive your card, you can activate it and start using it.

1. Open a checking account

You can open a checking account online or in person at your bank of choice. You'll need to provide basic information, including your name, address, Social Security number and proof of identification, such as a driver's license or passport. Some banks may require additional documentation, such as a utility bill or proof of income. If you are under 18, you may need a parent or guardian to co-sign on the account. 

Once you've provided all the required information and documentation, the bank will open your account. It may send you a checkbook and a debit card.

2. Request a debit card

Once your checking account is opened, the bank will usually provide the account holder with a debit card, but in some cases, you may have to specifically request one. Once you submit a request for a debit card, you may have to wait up to  10 business days for your card to arrive in the mail. 

3. Activate your debit card

Once you receive your debit card from your bank, it will need to be activated. You can do this over the phone, online or at an ATM. If you decide to activate your debit card online, make sure you use a secure internet connection for an extra layer of security. As part of the activation process, you may be prompted to set a PIN (personal identification number). A PIN is generally a four-digit number you'll have to enter as a security measure before making a transaction or using an ATM. 

How to add a debit card to a digital wallet

You may be able to use your new debit card to tap and pay at a participating business. You'll need to choose a digital wallet compatible with your device's operating system. Then, add your eligible debit card to the wallet. For instance, if you are using Apple Pay, you will need to open the Wallet app and tap "Add Card." You will be prompted to scan your physical card and enter your banking information. Next, you'll need to verify your information with your bank before you are 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

A debit card is a convenient way to withdraw cash from your account using an ATM. Some banks and credit unions will charge a fee to use an ATM that is not a part of their network. For example, if you bank with Wells Fargo, but you withdraw cash from an ATM that is not affiliated with Wells Fargo, you may have to pay an out-of-network fee issued by your bank. Depending on the bank, these fees typically cost between $2 and $3.50. 

What if my debit card is lost or stolen?

Contact your bank or credit union immediately. They will deactivate the card and start the replacement process. Some banks allow you to lock or unlock your debit card from the bank's website or mobile app. This comes in handy if you misplace your card but you locate it eventually. 

If your debit card is lost or stolen, report it on your bank's mobile app or call your bank immediately. You will not 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 liable for any unauthorized charges up to $50. And if you wait more than 60 days, you're liable for all unauthorized charges.

Do debit cards have fees?

Most of the time, debit cards aren't associated with as many fees as credit cards. However, you may run across the following fees:

  • ATM fees: When you pull out cash from an ATM not associated with your bank, you may be charged an out-of-network fee. You can avoid ATM fees by using an in-network ATM or by getting cash back when you make a purchase at a drugstore or grocery store, for example. 
  • Monthly maintenance fees: Since your debit card is tied to a checking account, your bank may charge monthly service fees. The best way to avoid service fees is to open your account at a bank that doesn't charge them. 
  • Foreign transaction fees: Using your debit card to make purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM outside the US can come with foreign transaction fees. Banks may charge a flat fee or 1% to 3% of the transaction. The best way to avoid these fees is to use a credit card or alternative form of payment that does not charge fees for international use.  

Alternatives to debit cards

You do not need a traditional checking account to manage your money. Here are a few alternatives:

  • Prepaid cards: With a prepaid card, funds are loaded onto the card ahead of time. You can use a prepaid card to make purchases like other cards, but unlike a credit card, you can't spend more than you have preloaded on the card. 
  • Cash: Though you may want to carry only a little cash, it can be a good backup plan if you lose your debit card.
  • Credit cards: Credit cards offer more extensive fraud liability protections than debit cards. Credit cards can also help you build credit because your data is usually reported to one or more of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. When you use your debit card, your funds are drawn directly from your checking account. With a credit card, you're borrowing from a lender. Since a debit card isn't a form of credit, the data from your account will never show up on your credit report or influence your score. 

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Correction, 7:30 a.m. PT Jan. 25: An earlier version of this article suggested that a debit card prevents an account holder from spending more than they have in their account. In fact, a checking account can be overdrafted. This inaccuracy has been removed from the article. The previous version also incorrectly stated that the bank or credit union will provide all account holders with a checkbook and debit card. The article has been corrected to clarify that account holders may be provided with a checkbook and debit card. The article also incorrectly suggested that an account holder is not liable for unauthorized charges as long as they inform their bank or credit union about a lost or stolen debit card within 60 days. The article has been corrected to clarify that an account holder is not liable for any unauthorized charges made without their permission if they are made after the card is reported lost or stolen and that, under federal law, if the card is reported lost or stolen within two days, the account holder is liable for any unauthorized charges up to $50; and if the account holder does not report a lost or stolen card for more than 60 days, they are liable for all unauthorized charges.