How to Use a Debit Card Online

Credit card being swiped in small business
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If debit cards are new to you, you may not (yet) know how to use one. It's easier than you think. We'll cover a few basic examples below, and you'll have a clear idea of how to use your card in no time.

How to Use a Debit Card

Debit cards can be used for payment almost anywhere that credit cards are accepted. That includes restaurants, merchants, online retailers, and government organizations. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, it's as easy as swiping your debit card when you check out (or if paying online, by typing in your card number).

Just run the black magnetic strip on the back of your card through the card machine (or dip the smart chip, if you have one), and sign for the transaction if needed.

In some establishments, you pay with your debit card by handing it to an employee who will run it through a card reader for you. While convenient, the practice is also risky, so you should only hand your card to somebody that you trust: anybody who has your card in their possession can copy information from the card, and use that information to make fraudulent purchases on your account.

How to Use a Debit Card at an ATM

Debit cards can be used to get cash out of your checking account at an automated teller machine (ATM). To do this, insert your card into the ATM's card reader. If you're not sure how the card goes in, look for a diagram that looks similar to your card. It will indicate which side goes up, and which side should face left or right (look for something similar to the black stripe on the back of your card).

Once the ATM has read your card, it will ask you to enter your personal identification number (PIN). Type in your PIN while blocking your hand from view (you don't want anybody else to see what you type in at this point). Then, follow the instructions on the screen to make withdrawals, view your balance, or transfer money.

If you had to insert your debit card into the machine and it held onto the card, be sure to wait until your card is returned to you before walking away.

How to Use a Debit Card Online

If you're paying for something online, you can generally use your debit card as if it was a credit card. You don't need to specify that you want to use a debit card (just select the "pay with credit card" option). Start by indicating the type of card you have: Visa or MasterCard, for example. Then, type in the 16 digit number on the front of your debit card. You'll also have to enter the expiration date, which you can find after the words "good through" or "valid through."

You may also be asked for a CCD, CVV, or similar security code. It is a three or four digit code that helps prove that you are authorized to use the card. This code can be found on the back of most cards towards the far right (often printed on the card in black ink after your card number). On American Express cards, the code is on the front of the card (again, in black ink on the far right).

To use a debit card online, you'll need to know the correct billing address linked to that card. With most debit cards, this is your home address. However, you may have difficulty using prepaid debit cards if you do not know what address to use.

If you plan to make payments online, be sure that your computer will keep thieves from stealing your card information. Keep your security software up to date, and only use your card on sites that you trust. You should also check to make sure that your card information will be sent over a secure connection when shopping online.

How to Use a Prepaid Debit Card

Prepaid cards are very similar to traditional bank-issued debit cards. The main difference is that they are not linked to your bank account. Instead, they are linked to a pool of money available to you. In most cases, you can use a prepaid debit card as if it was any other card – as long as you have sufficient funds available, nobody's going to care that you have a prepaid card.

You might eventually use up all of the funds available on your prepaid debit card.

At that point, some cards allow you to "reload" and add funds to the card. The process for reloading varies from card to card (you might have to go to a store and pay cash, or you might transfer funds from your bank).

If you're going to use a prepaid debit card, keep an eye on the fees you pay. These cards are typically (but not always) more expensive than debit cards issued by banks.

Should You Use a Debit Card or Credit Card?

Debit cards make it easy to make payments. However, when it comes to debit cards that are linked to your checking account, there is some risk involved: that card is linked directly to your bank account. If your card is stolen (or if somebody steals the information from your card), your checking account could get drained by a thief. You are protected – as long as you report the problem to your bank immediately – but a temporarily empty bank account can cause stress and other problems.

If that concerns you, you can use a credit card for day-to-day use and online shopping instead of using your debit card. Credit cards have more consumer protections, and – more importantly – the money doesn’t leave your bank account before you become aware of any problems. Simply pay off your entire credit card balance in full every month (if you were using a debit card before, you weren’t borrowing anyway), and you can avoid interest charges.