Checking accounts vs. debit cards

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

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Checking accounts and debit cards work together, but they’re actually two separate products. 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 offers 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 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

Checking and savings accounts are both helpful banking products, but they each have their pros and cons:

Checking accounts

  • 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.

Debit cards

  • 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.

Compare accounts with debit cards

Name Product APY ATMs Fee
1.25% on balances of $0+ with $1,000+ in direct deposits, 10 $3+ debit card transactions and 5 additional account transactions per month
ATM fees reimbursed at any ATM nationwide
Earn up to 1.25% APY while enjoying a suite of digital tools for smarter money management.
No ATM fees nationwide at more than 64,000 AllPoint, participating 7-Eleven and BBVA USA ATMs
A full-service account with convenient, surcharge-free access to two massive ATM networks.
BBVA Premium Checking
BBVA Premium Checking
More than 64,000 AllPoint, participating 7-Eleven and BBVA USA ATMs
(can be waived)
A full-service interest checking account that offers automatic rebates of ATM fees.
Access to 16,000 ATMs and nearly 5,000 branches nationwide
(can be waived)
Get a $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking account and set up direct deposit within 60 days of opening your account. Chase's simplest checking account is easy to use and gives you access to 16,000 ATMs and nearly 5,000 branches.
Free to use anywhere worldwide
(can be waived)
Get a $750 welcome bonus when you join Sapphire Banking by September 28, 2019. Within 45 days of joining, transfer a total of $75,000 or more in qualifying new money or securities to a combination of eligible checking, savings and/or investment accounts (excludes any J.P. Morgan retirement accounts and CDs), and maintain the balance for at least 90 days.
1.00% on balances of $10,000+ or deposit $1+ each calendar month into any Aspiration cash management or investment account
Free to use anywhere worldwide
A spend and save combo account with no monthly service fees, free access to every ATM in the world, unlimited cash back rewards and deposits insured by the FDIC. The Aspiration Spend & Save Account is a cash management account offering of Aspiration Financial, LLC, an SEC-registered broker-dealer. Aspiration is not a chartered bank.

Compare up to 4 providers

Name Product APY ATMs Fee
2.15% on balances of $10,000+
2.02% on balances of $0 to $9,999
40,000 AllPoint ATMs in Simple’s network
Banking and budgeting in one simple app.
38,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
Linked checking and savings accounts from a mobile-first bank that’s light on fees.
42,000 ATMs across the country
Moven automatically analyzes your spending and gives you instant receipts and insights so you can spend, save and live smarter.
42,000 ATMs nationwide
(can be waived)
GoBank provides tools to help you build a budget and stick to it. No overdraft fees. Monthly and other fees apply.
Over 55,000 fee-free Allpoint ATMs
(can be waived)
An account designated specifically for students with access to over 55,000 fee-free Allpoint ATMs, money management tools and a one-of-a-kind recognition program.
55,000 AllPoint ATMs around the world for free
No monthly fees. No foreign transaction fees. No fees at 55,000+ Allpoint ATMs.

Compare up to 4 providers

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.

Bottom line

Standalone checking accounts 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 debit cards that fit your needs.

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