Checking accounts and debit cards are technically two separate products, but you usually can’t get one without the other. While they both allow you to manage your money and make transactions, there are a few differences that set them apart.
What’s the difference between checking accounts and debit cards?
Many checking accounts offer an accompanying debit card to access funds. Though some savings accounts also offer debit cards, and digital-only banks or mobile apps are increasingly offering debit cards linked to their account or service. Ultimately, a debit card is dependent on another source for the funds it accesses.
Unlimited access to your money through deposits, withdrawals, checks, bill pay service and an optional debit card.
Payment card linked to a financial account used to withdraw cash at ATMs or swipe for payments at retailers or online.
Via debit card
FDIC or NCUA insurance
Depends on the account it’s linked to
Varies by bank
Point of sale purchases
Yes with debit card
Varies by bank
Isn’t a debit card a checking account?
No. Checking accounts are a place to store money for everyday transactions separately from your savings. Debit cards are tools to access the money in linked accounts through ATM withdrawals and point-of-sale transactions.
Pros and cons of checking vs. debit cards
You technically can’t get a debit card without a checking account (and vice versa). The only exception is if you find a prepaid debit card or a digital bank account that doesn’t offer physical debit card. With that in mind, here are some pros and cons of each:
Security. Checking accounts allow you to deposit money to be kept safe inside the account. Plus, most of them are insured for up to $250,000 by the FDIC.
Account features. Many checking accounts offer features like rewards programs, money management tools, overdraft protection and more.
Transfer money. Checking accounts allow you to write checks and transfer money to other accounts online or by phone.
Potential fees. Many checking accounts charge monthly fees that could eat into your balance.
Minimum balance requirements. Some checking accounts require that you keep a certain amount in your account to avoid fees.
Limited point-of-sale purchases. Unless the retailer accepts checks, you won’t be able to make point-of-sale purchases at retailers without a debit card.
ATM access. Debit cards allow you to withdraw cash from ATMs whenever you need it.
Point of sale transactions. With a debit card, you can make purchases online and at retailers.
No monthly fees. While you could be charged ATM fees, there are usually no monthly fees to own a debit card.
Must be linked. Unless you have a prepaid debit card, you’ll need to link your debit card to another account to make purchases and withdrawals.
No deposits or account features. Debit cards are not accounts, so you won’t get any account features and won’t be able to make deposits.
Can’t transfer money. Cash withdrawals and POS transactions are the only way to access money with a debit card. If you want to make transfers, you’ll need to use an account.
How to compare checking accounts and debit cards
These products are best used together, but here are some important factors you should think about if you’re considering one over the other:
Features. Checking accounts often come with useful features, whereas debit cards do not.
Access. Checking accounts allow you to write checks, make online purchases and transfer money. Debit cards can only be used to withdraw cash and make purchases online or at stores.
Fees. Checking accounts have monthly fees and other charges that could eat into your balance. Other than ATM fees that are charged to the linked account, debit cards do not.
Security. Checking accounts are eligible for FDIC deposit insurance, whereas debit cards are not.
Deposits. Checking accounts allow you to deposit money and manage funds. You won’t be able to store money with a debit card.
Compare accounts with debit cards
The table has two tabs: one for checking accounts and one for digital banks and apps. Sort each table by minimum deposits, ATMs and fees. If you’re eyeing more than one account, you can compare your top picks side-by-side by ticking the “Compare” box next to each one.
Any purchase or transaction made with a debit card will deduct money from the linked account and transfer it to the payee. With a credit card, purchases are covered by the issuer with the expectation that you will repay the bill at a later date.
Peter Carleton is a writer that covers banking and investing, breaking down what you need to know about where you put your money. When Peter's not thinking about cutting-edge banking apps and robo-advisors, he runs a creative agency and spends his spare time cooking or reading.
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