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Checking accounts vs. debit cards

These two products go hand in hand, but have distinctly different functions.

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Fact checked

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.

Checking account Debit card
About 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.
Online transfers Yes No
Check writing Yes No
ATM access Via debit card Yes
FDIC or NCUA insurance Yes Depends on the account it’s linked to
Monthly fees Varies by bank No
Point of sale purchases Yes with debit card Yes
Online transactions Yes Varies by bank
Account features Yes No
Store money Yes No

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:

Checking accounts

Pros
  • 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.
Cons
  • 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.

Debit cards

Pros
  • 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.
Cons
  • 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.

Name Product Minimum deposit to open ATMs Out-of-network ATM fee
HSBC Premier Checking
$1
Free to use at all ATMs in the US
$0
Get a 3% cash bonus, up to $600 (max. $100 per month) during first six months after account opening. Must open HSBC Premier checking account through offer page by September 30, 2020, and set up qualifying direct deposits into the new account. Conditions apply. Deposit products are offered in the US by HSBC Bank USA, N.A. Member FDIC.
BBVA Online Checking
$25
No ATM fees nationwide at more than 64,000 AllPoint, participating 7-Eleven and BBVA USA ATMs
$3
A full-service account with convenient, surcharge-free access to two massive ATM networks, plus up to a $250 signup bonus when you meet deposit requirements
Axos Bank Essential Checking
$0
ATM fees reimbursed at any ATM nationwide
No fees. Unlimited domestic ATM fee reimbursements.
Axos Bank Rewards Checking
$50
ATM fees reimbursed at any ATM nationwide
$0
Earn up to 1.25% APY while enjoying a suite of digital tools for smarter money management.
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
$10
55,000 free in-network ATMs
$0
Deposits are fossil fuel-free. A spend and save combo account with unlimited cash back rewards and deposits insured by the FDIC.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product Minimum deposit to open ATMs Out-of-network ATM fee
Chime Spending account
$0
38,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
$2.50
Get rid of fees with this mobile-first bank offering consumer-friendly accounts. Chime can also help you save easily and access your paycheck faster.
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
$10
55,000 free in-network ATMs
$0
Deposits are fossil fuel-free. A spend and save combo account with unlimited cash back rewards and deposits insured by the FDIC.
Target REDcard Debit Card
Save 5% every day & get exclusive extras with REDcard.
TransferWise Borderless
$20
Free at any ATM in the world
$0
Send and receive 40+ currencies right from your phone, but with a better exchange rate and low fees.
N26
N26
$0
Fee-free ATM withdrawals at Allpoint ATMs
$0
A digital bank account with no hidden fees, no minimum account balance and no maintenance charges.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

A checking account can help you store and manage your money while allowing you to make transfers and online purchases. Debit cards can be used to withdraw cash and make point-of-sale transactions.

Compare your options to find checking accounts or the best debit cards on the market.

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