How virtual debit cards work

Get all the benefits of going cashless without carrying a card.

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Debit cards give you convenient access to funds in your checking account. And virtual debit cards let you do that without a physical card online or by using your smartphone at the checkout.

What is a virtual debit card?

There are a couple of different types of virtual debit cards, but they’re all essentially digital versions of a plastic debit card.

The first type of virtual debit card is just a number that you use to securely shop online — it’s usually linked to a prepaid account. These card numbers remain active for certain periods of time or can only be used for certain websites, so they are more secure than using a single debit card for all of your online shopping.

The second type of virtual debit card is a version of your debit card that exists in a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay, Google Pay or a banking app. You access the virtual debit card from your digital wallet and pay using contactless payment technology just like you would with your physical card.

What are the benefits of a virtual debit card?

Using a virtual debit card has a number of advantages, including:

Security
Convenience
Speed
Card options
Currency options

Security

If you’re using a virtual debit card that generates a random card number, this will help keep your funds secure when shopping online.

Convenience

You won’t need to bring a physical debit card with you to complete transactions in-store. You can pay with your smartphone.

Speed

You won’t need to wait for a card to be delivered when you sign up for a new account or if your card expires. With the new digital banks, you may be able to use your virtual card as soon as your account is active.

Card options

There are single- and multi-use virtual debit cards available to suit your online payment needs, and you can use a prepaid card or link it to your bank account or credit provider.

Currency options

Some providers also offer multi-currency prepaid debit cards, allowing you to save on currency conversion fees when buying from overseas retailers.

What are the drawbacks to a virtual debit card?

Keep in mind virtual debit cards may not suit everyone.

  • Prepaid virtual debit cards will have card limits. If you choose a prepaid card, it will have limits on the amount of funds you can hold on the card. Consider if these limits are too restrictive for you.
  • You may have transaction limits. Banks commonly set limits for how much you can put on a contactless card in a single purchase.

How do I use a virtual debit card?

It depends on the type of virtual debit card you choose.

If you opt for a virtual debit card that can be loaded into a digital wallet, you’ll need to have a checking account that offers this option. Once you’ve opened the account and have the physical card, you can download your chosen digital wallet and add the card to it to start spending your funds. The bank may also be able to give you a virtual debit card in your bank app before it sends you the physical card.

If you choose a virtual card for online shopping, just sign up online and follow the online process. You should receive your card number once the process is completed, which you can use to start spending. You may be able to link this card to a PayPal account or bank account or you may need to load funds to the virtual card account itself.

Compare cardless ATM-compatible accounts you can use as virtual debit cards

Name Product APY ATMs Fee
Access to 16,000 ATMs and nearly 5,000 branches nationwide
$12/month
(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.
16,000 Chase ATMs and nearly 5,000 branches
$15/month
(can be waived)
If you’re new to Chase, get $200 when you open this account and complete qualifying activities. It boasts convenient features to help small and growing businesses reach their goals.
More than 13,000 Wells Fargo ATMs nationwide
$10/month
(can be waived)
Everyday Checking is banking made easy. Open with $25.
0.30%
16,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide
$4.95/month
(can be waived)
Customize your account to fit your needs and experience our full scope of services
0.01%
Access to 16,000 ATMs and nearly 5,000 branches nationwide
$25/month
(can be waived)
Get a $300 signup bonus as a new Chase checking customer when you open a Chase Premier Plus Checking account and set up direct deposit.
0.01% on balances of $500+
$15/month
(can be waived)
Everyday Checking, banking made easy. Open with $25.

Compare up to 4 providers

Bottom line

Virtual debit cards are quickly gaining in popularity, but it’ll be a while before contactless cards are accepted everywhere. If you’re interested in using one, compare bank accounts to find one with virtual and contactless card options.

Frequently asked questions

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