5 Debit Card Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make

Two people holding shopping bags take money from an ATM machine while out on the town.

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Debit cards seem really simple on the surface: You swipe the card, enter your PIN, and walk out with your purchase. But they’re not quite the same as the cash they’re intended to replace.

Debit cards carry many of the same risks as credit cards, and the wrong move could put your money at risk. Here are five costly debit card mistakes you really want to avoid.

1. Sharing your card number with others

Thieves can still gain access to your funds even without your physical card. That’s why it’s crucial to protect your card number and PIN from others. This means not leaving your card lying around for others to find and not writing your PIN anywhere where someone could stumble across it.

If you use your debit card to shop online, it’s best to do so on a private wifi network you trust, just in case. Public networks can be more easily hacked, and thieves may be able to see what you’re doing on your computer, even if they’re not physically looking over your shoulder. Thankfully, most websites are now encrypted, so as long as the one you’re using is (look for a lock symbol or a URL starting with “https”), you are likely safe.

2. Not checking your balance regularly

Checking your balance regularly is crucial to avoiding financial mishaps. If you don’t have overdraft protection on the account, the bank will just decline your card if you attempt to withdraw more money than you have. But this can still cause problems when making a purchase. You could also miss unauthorized purchases a thief made with your money if you don’t keep tabs on your bank account.

Some banks enable you to set up transaction alerts, which notify you of suspicious activity like large withdrawals. You can also set up balance alerts so you know when your money is getting low. If this isn’t an option, check your account every day or every few days so you know where you’re at.

3. Overdrawing your account

Overdraft protection is something you have to opt into these days. It enables you to go ahead with a debit card purchase even if you don’t actually have the cash you need in your account at the moment. But there can be some high costs associated with this. Most banks charge around $35 per overdraft, though there are a few that offer some fee-free overdrafts now.

Keeping an eye on your balance, as mentioned above, can reduce your risk of overdrafts. You can also opt out of overdraft protection if you’re worried about incurring too many overdraft fees.

4. Waiting to report a lost or stolen card

Debit cards generally have protections that prevent you from being held liable for fraudulent transactions someone else makes with your money. But these protections rely upon you to promptly notify your bank that your card has been lost or stolen, so it can cancel the card and issue you a new one.

If you report a card lost or stolen within two business days, banks generally can’t hold you liable for more than $50 in fraudulent transactions. If you wait longer, you could be responsible for $500 or more in purchases or transfers you didn’t make.

5. Using ATMs that charge fees

Most banks permit you to use ATMs in their network to access your checking or savings account funds without paying a fee. Some banks also partner with nationwide ATM networks to offer fee-free access to their customers. You should be able to look up the nearest fee-free ATM using your bank’s online or mobile tools.

Whenever possible, try to stick to fee-free ATMs. ATM fees may only amount to a few dollars, but why waste even a little money when you don’t have to? If you have no choice but to pay for using an ATM, try to withdraw only as much as you need until you reach a bank branch or a fee-free ATM.

A lot of these moves are second nature to most debit card users, but if anything surprises you, you may want to rethink how you use your debit card. And if you have any questions about how your card works in particular, reach out to your bank for more information.

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