Can I use my ATM card to buy things online?

November 21, 2012

| MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Q: I have a question about buying things online. Can I use my ATM card to do this? If so, how?

A: The short answer is yes, so long as your ATM card is linked with a major card processing network, such as Visa or MasterCard. Doing so should be relatively easy, but your questions raises some points about making online purchases that are worth reviewing.

Different online retailers have different policies and practices, but whether your card is a credit card or a debit card (or, as is the case sometimes, both), you should be able to use it for online purchases at most major websites. Prepaid cards are more of a grey area -- your chances of them working depend on the exact type of card you're using, and if the card is registered to your name and address.

Just follow the instructions on the retailer's website step-by-step, and try to make purchases when you are not in a hurry so you can minimize mistakes. Here are some other points to remember:

  1. If you have the option, consider using a credit card rather than a debit card. Any time you enter a credit or debit card number online, you run the risk that hackers might steal that information and use it to make unauthorized purchases. This risk can be minimized if you are purchasing through a reputable website with appropriate security measures, but even so, card data does get stolen from time to time. When that happens, you have more protection using a credit card rather than a debit card. Debit cards require that you notify the issuer of any unauthorized use within two days in order to limit your liability, which demands more frequent account monitoring than most people practice. However, if you use a credit card, make sure you have budgeted for timely repayment of the charge you are making. Don't allow easy access to credit to turn into a debt problem.
  2. If you use a debit card, be sure to update your checking account records. If you decide to use a debit card after all, make sure you update your checking account records at the same time that you make the purchase. This will help you avoid overdraft fees that might be larger than the cost of what you are purchasing.
  3. Do not make purchases when using public Internet access. Make purchases only from your home Internet connection. Not only do public systems vary greatly in terms of security, but there are devices that can intercept wireless signals, and thus be used to steal sensitive financial information like credit and debit card numbers.

ATM cards are an example of the convenience of modern banking, but the important thing for customers is not to turn that convenience into an easy way to make financial mistakes.

Got a financial question about saving, investing, or banking? MoneyRates.com invites you to submit your questions to its "Ask the Expert" feature. Just go to the MoneyRates.com home page and look for the "Ask the Expert" box on the lower left.

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