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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

  • 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.

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

Sort 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.

1 - 5 of 64
Name Product Fee Minimum deposit to open Annual Percentage Yield (APY) Offer
SoFi Checking and Savings
Finder Score: 4.5 / 5: ★★★★★
SoFi Checking and Savings
$0 per month
4.60% on balances of $0+
0.50% on balances of $0+
1.20% on balances of $0+
Get up to $300 cash bonus with qualifying direct deposit. Terms apply. This offer is available until December 31, 2024.
Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus
Finder Score: 4.3 / 5: ★★★★★
Upgrade Rewards Checking Plus
$0 per month
Cash Card by Cash App
Finder Score: 4.4 / 5: ★★★★★
Cash Card by Cash App
$0 per month
Step Black Card
Finder Score: 4.3 / 5: ★★★★★
Step Black Card
From $0 per month
5.00% on balances of $0 to $1,000,000
PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Select
Finder Score: 3.4 / 5: ★★★★★
PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Select
$25 per month
(can be waived)
Earn $400 when you open a new PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Select and establish a direct deposit of at least $5,000+ to your Spend account in the first 60 days.

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.

Frequently asked questions

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Peter Carleton is a freelance 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. See full bio

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