A debit card is linked to your current account and is used to pay for goods and services everywhere in the UK, online and abroad. The amount of the purchase is debited from your available balance on the same day. However it can take several days for the funds to be debited from your account. Debit cards also allow you to withdraw money at cash machines or get cashback in shops that offer that service. More than 90% of all debit cards in the UK are Visa branded, but there are also maestro cards.

What would I use this for?

  • More than one million places in the UK, including online and over the phone accept debit cards. UK debit cards badged Visa or MasterCard can be used worldwide – though in some countries you’ll still be asked to sign when you pay rather than giving a PIN.
  • Debit cards are useful for everyday spending and are generally free to use in the UK providing you have enough money in your account to cover the purchase. On average we use our debit cards nearly six times a week, for everyday shopping, withdrawing cash and paying bills or businesses.
  • If you use your debit card in a cash machine (or ATM) there are other things you can do as well as getting cash. These include getting an account balance or mini-statement, changing your PIN, or in some cases topping up credit on your mobile phone.
  • Some shops, like supermarkets,offer the option of “cashback” when you make a debit card purchase above a minimum value. This means the retailer will give you the amount of cash you ask for (up to a £50 limit) and the money will be debited from your account straightaway. It’s useful when you need cash but there isn’t an ATM nearby.

How do I use it?

  • When you make a transaction using a debit card the funds are taken from your account straightaway. You need to be sure there is sufficient money in your account to make the purchase – otherwise your card might be declined by the retailer or you could be charged for an unauthorised overdraft.
  • When you use your debit card in person, you will be asked to enter your PIN to confirm the transaction. Once you have successfully entered your PIN into the keypad, information is sent electronically to your bank to arrange for the money to be taken to your account and paid to the business.
  • Chip and signature cards are available as an alternative to chip and PIN for people who aren’t able to use a PIN – you should contact your bank to request one if needed. Card terminals in shops are designed to automatically prompt shop staff to ask for a signature when one is needed and both the business and customer benefit from the same protections from liability for fraud losses offered by chip and PIN.
  • Debit cards are also commonly used to buy things online or over the phone. To buy something in this way, you need to provide the 16-digit card number and the name on the card. You will also be asked for the expiry date, an issue number (if there is one) and the three-digit security code on the back of your card. Businesses accepting payments in this way have to meet standards to ensure your information is stored safely, but you should always make sure the company you are dealing with is trustworthy, as this information can be valuable to fraudsters. You should NEVER give your PIN to anyone either online or over the phone.
  • There’s usually no charge for paying by debit card but your bank may charge you for using your card overseas, and some internet retailers levy a charge too. Some ATMs also charge for cash withdrawals, but you will always be told upfront on the screen before withdrawing cash if you are to be charged, so you have the choice to stop the transaction.

Security

  • If you are an innocent victim of fraud you have legal protection under the Payment Services Regulations and your bank should refund you immediately. However, you still need to alert your bank as soon as you are aware of any fraud on your card.
  • Regulations also give you legal protection if money comes off your card without your authorisation or for more than you were reasonably expecting.
  • Some Visa debit cards offer additional consumer protection similar to the ‘Section 75’ protection you get with all credit cards. This means you may be able to get a refund from your card company if a business breaches their contract with you, for example if the goods are faulty or not as described or you don’t receive the good you ordered as the company collapses.

Useful information

  • More and more debit cards are being upgraded with contactless technology which provides a new way to pay with cards. You can find out more about contactless in our ‘New Technology’ section.
  • For repeat purchases such as subscriptions or regular payments, it’s possible to set up recurring payments on your debit card, though this doesn’t offer the same protection you get with a Direct Debit.
  • As a general rule for paying abroad, it is cheaper to use your debit card to withdraw cash and to use your credit card to make purchases but you should always check your account and card terms and conditions. See our advice guide: taking your plastic overseas

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