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The Pros and Cons of Checking Account Debit Cards

February 24, 2009

By Richard Barrington | MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Debit cards can be a wonderful source of convenience, but sometimes that convenience comes at a price. You could win or lose by using a debit card, but the more you know, the less you'll leave to chance.

The Pros and Cons of Debit Cards

Many checking accounts these days offer debit card features. Sometimes this is an extra bonus for opening an account, but sometimes it comes with strings attached. You should understand the conditions under which such a card is offered, as well as the other pros and cons involved.

Here are some of the arguments in favor of debit cards:

  • They can reduce the need to carry cash, which can be both more convenient and safer.
  • Since you won't be burning through as much cash, you can make fewer trips to the ATM, which should mean fewer ATM fees.
  • Unlike credit cards, debit cards do not entail borrowing money, so you can save on interest and finance charges.

On the other hand, here are some of the potential concerns:

  • You may find yourself spending more, since you are essentially carrying your entire checking account around in your wallet.
  • Your bank may charge you for having a debit account via additional annual fees or ATM fees.
  • Debit cards may not always protect you as much as credit cards when it comes to purchases made with a stolen card, and since no PIN is required, it may be easier for a thief to drain down your account.

What You Should Do

The following are some tips for using a debit card with a minimum amount of cost and risk:

  • Group accounts together. If you have savings or IRA accounts, see if you can benefit by having your checking account at the same institution. They may offer bonuses for additional accounts, such as a no-fee debit card.
  • Pick a bank with a major presence in your area. The ATMs your bank has in your area, the less likely you are to incur fees for using another bank's machine.
  • Consolidate ATM transactions. Fees are usually a fixed amount, so it is more expensive to take out cash in drips and drabs than to give yourself a weekly allowance. Also, getting cash back on grocery store transactions can save separate trips to the ATM.
  • Check daily to see if your card is secure, and check statements for any unauthorized usage. The longer you go without reporting a missing card, the more money you can be liable for under the law. Check your monthly statement and balance your account every time, and if you have an online account, you can eyeball the transactions even more frequently.


Debit cards are much more convenient than carrying around a checkbook, and can be less expensive than using a credit card for routine purchases. Once you know how to handle it effectively, you can benefit from a debit card while squeezing down the potential risks and expenses.


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