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Checking accounts vs. debit cards

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

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 accountDebit card
AboutUnlimited 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 transfersYesNo
Check writingYesNo
ATM accessVia debit cardYes
FDIC or NCUA insuranceYesDepends on the account it’s linked to
Monthly feesVaries by bankNo
Point of sale purchasesYes with debit cardYes
Online transactionsYesVaries by bank
Account featuresYesNo
Store moneyYesNo

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 APY Minimum deposit to open ATMs Out-of-network ATM fee Offer
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
Finder Rating: 4.2 / 5: ★★★★★
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
5.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
3.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
$10
55,000+ free Allpoint ATMs worldwide
$0
Deposits are fossil fuel-free and insured by the FDIC. Enjoy a spend and save combo account with unlimited cash back rewards.
Chime Checking account
Finder Rating: 4.7 / 5: ★★★★★
Chime Checking account
N/A
$0
60,000+ fee-free ATMs
$2.50
Get rid of fees with this financial app offering consumer-friendly accounts. Chime can also help you save easily and access your paycheck faster.
HSBC Premier Checking
Finder Rating: 2.7 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
HSBC Premier Checking
0.01% on balances of $5+
$0
Free to use at all ATMs in the US
$0
Get a $500 welcome bonus when you open your account with qualifying activities. Must open HSBC Premier checking account through offer page by February 15, 2023, and set up qualifying direct deposits into the new account totalling at least $10,000 per month for three consecutive months. Conditions apply. Deposit products are offered in the US by HSBC Bank USA, N.A. Member FDIC.

HSBC Premier Checking offers free global transfers and 24/7 customer support.
Juno
Finder Rating: 4.8 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
Juno
1.20% on balances of $0 to $5,000
0.25% on balances of $5,000.01+
$0
More than 85,000 ATMs nationwide
$0
Metal checking is free for the first 6 months
A free account for crypto and cash that earns a 1.2% bonus rate plus 5% cashback on purchases from participating retailers.
Chase Total Checking®
Finder Rating: 3 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
Chase Total Checking®
N/A
$0
Access to 16,000 ATMs and more than 4,700 branches nationwide
$3
New Chase checking customers enjoy a $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct deposit.
Chase Total Checking is easy to use and gives you access to 16,000 ATMs and more than 4,700 branches. It offers a $200 signup bonus to new Chase customers
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Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product APY Minimum deposit to open ATMs Out-of-network ATM fee Offer
NorthOne Business Banking
Finder Rating: 3.4 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
NorthOne Business Banking
N/A
$50
withdraw cash at any Cirrus branded ATM location (+1,000,000 locations accross the U.S + 2m worldwide), including MoneyPass ATMs
$0
Waive your $10 monthly fee for the first month when you sign up and open an account. After your first month, you'll pay a monthly fee of $10. Offer valid until April 26, 2023.
Chime Checking account
Finder Rating: 4.7 / 5: ★★★★★
Chime Checking account
N/A
$0
60,000+ fee-free ATMs
$2.50
Get rid of fees with this financial app offering consumer-friendly accounts. Chime can also help you save easily and access your paycheck faster.
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
Finder Rating: 4.2 / 5: ★★★★★
Aspiration Spend & Save Account
5.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
3.00% on balances of $0 to $10,000
$10
55,000+ free Allpoint ATMs worldwide
$0
Deposits are fossil fuel-free and insured by the FDIC. Enjoy a spend and save combo account with unlimited cash back rewards.
Lili
Finder Rating: 4.6 / 5: ★★★★★
Lili
1.00%
$0
32,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
$2.50
Small business owners and freelancers get paid up to two days early and can automatically set aside money for taxes with the Lili digital banking account.
Citi Priority Checking
Finder Rating: 3.4 / 5: ★★★★★
Bonus
Citi Priority Checking
N/A
$30,000
70,000+ fee-free ATMs in the U.S.
$2.50
Earn up to $2,000 when you open an eligible account and complete required activities.
Secure online banking and access to cash with one of the largest networks of fee-free ATMs in the US.
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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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