How To Get a Debit Card: Step-by-Step Guide

Thinking of getting your first debit card from a bank, a credit union, or another financial institution? Great – then this article is for you.

Getting a debit card is pretty straightforward – and in this guide, we’ll go through each step you need to complete.

We’ll also give you an overview of a few less traditional types of debit cards you might want to get in the future.

3 Steps How To Get a Debit Card

Here’s how to get a debit card, step by step:

1. Open a Bank Account

The first step towards getting a debit card is to go to your financial institution of choice (or its website) and open an account.

You’ll get a debit card with your account, which you’ll be able to use to make purchases.

If you already have an account with a bank or another financial institution, all you’ll need to do is request a debit card from them.

Check with your financial institution to make sure you can get one – but it should be pretty straightforward.

If you don’t have an account yet, opening one should be pretty straightforward. Traditionally, you would have had to do that in person.

However, many banks allow you to complete the process of opening a bank account online now if that’s what you prefer.

When opening an account, you’ll need to provide documents like your Social Security number, a government-issued photo ID (like a driver’s license), passport, or state or military ID.

Checking Account

The type of account you’ll want to open will depend on why you’ve decided you need one in the first place.

If you’re planning on making everyday purchases and transactions using your debit card, what you’ll need is a checking account.

It’s possible to open a new checking account at a local bank, an online bank, or a credit union.

There are many different kinds of checking accounts to choose from, like interest-bearing accounts, rewards checking, or premium checking.

Spend some time deciding which one’s best for you as it’ll depend on your goals.

Some banks will even pay you to open a checking account. Here are some of the best checking account promotions currently available:

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Savings Account

Like checking accounts, savings accounts can be opened at any financial institution, from online banks to credit unions.

Since a savings account is usually made for saving money rather than spending it, keep in mind that not all savings accounts will offer a debit card.

If they do have a debit card linked to them, there is usually an ATM withdrawals limit per month, so if you need a card for more frequent use, go for a checking account.

2. Request a Debit Card

Once you have a bank account ready, it’s time to ask for a debit card. Plan to wait for 7 to 10 business days for your request to be processed.

You’ll have to go to your bank and talk to a representative, call customer service, or you might be able to request one online or through the bank’s app.

If you’ve completed step one, the issuer should already have your ID, SSN (social security number), and everything else they need to create the card.

Depending on the bank and if your account is online or offline, you may be able to pick your card up directly from the bank or, more commonly, have it mailed to you.

Many banks offer personalized debit cards, too, that you can get for an additional fee. Since it can take a while to be ready, some institutions will mail you a regular temporary card and then substitute it with your personalized one once ready.

3. Activate Your Debit Card

So, a week to 10 days have passed, and you finally have the debit card in your hands! Do you need to do anything to make it work? Yes, you do.

You have to know that most cards don’t come to you ready to be used, but you’ll need to take the extra step of activating them first. Lucky for you, it’s not rocket science.

If you pick up your card at a brick-and-mortar bank, then the bank representative should help you activate it.

If you receive the debit card via mail, you’ll typically have to call a number or activate your card online. Make sure to have a secure connection (ideally, at home or at a place with a network you trust) to avoid hackers if you are activating online.

As part of the process, you’ll have to choose a PIN, or Personal Identification Number, which is the one you’ll enter every time before making a purchase.

Some financial institutions give you a pre-set initial PIN that you have to change upon activation. Don’t use your birthday, social security card number, or any other sensitive or obvious numbers as your PIN for safety reasons.

But also make sure you memorize it – forgetting your PIN can cause all sorts of problems. They’re not unsolvable – but they might be an inconvenience.

Important Things to Remember About Your First Debit Card

Now that you have your first debit card, here are some essential things to remember.

Don’t Spend More Than You Have

When you get a debit card for the first time, it might be tempting to use it as much as you can because it’s easy.

But keep in mind that a debit card is different from a credit card. You are only supposed to spend the money you already have available in your account.

If you spend more funds than you have, some banks will stop your purchase.

In contrast, some others will act as a lender and give you the money or transfer it from a linked savings account of yours.

However, be careful because that means you’ll have to pay overdraft fees later on in most cases. It can be expensive over time or lower your credit score if it keeps happening.

Keep your Debit Card Safe

Another note I’d like to make is about safety. Even if safer than carrying around large quantities of cash, debit cards aren’t as secure as credit cards.

Some debit card transactions, for example, only require a signature instead of a PIN. That makes it easier for potential thieves to shop around using your card without you knowing about it.

You might be held responsible for up to $500 of fraudulent purchases, depending on how much the thief spent.

If someone used your debit card without permission by forging your signature, you’d still be protected from the Visa or Mastercard networks.

They have systems designed to detect if something is wrong.

Visa debit cards might also be covered by a zero liability policy. This policy guarantees you won’t be held responsible for unauthorized purchases and won’t have to pay any fees or penalties for them.

On the other hand, if the thief knows your PIN, then there would be nothing standing in the way of them spending all of your money without anybody noticing.

Yep, they’d be able to spend as much as they want – at least for a while.

That’s why it’s your responsibility to keep your card safe and to choose a secure PIN that you (and only you) memorize.

Some actions I’d recommend you take are setting up a low-balance alert and an alert for purchases over a certain amount of money.

Also, keep your card in a safe place and never write down your PIN but learn it by heart instead.

Finally, always cover the keypad with your free hand when performing ATM transactions or when paying for things. Even if you think no one’s around, there are various ways to steal someone’s PIN – so make sure it’s fully covered.

Always report any theft as soon as possible because you’ll be held responsible and not reimbursed for a larger part of the amount stolen if you wait too long.

Other Types of Debit Cards

There are a few more types of handy debit cards you might want to consider. Here are some of the most common ones:

Prepaid Debit Cards

Prepaid debit cards don’t need you to have a linked bank account to work. However, if you want, you can still set up direct deposit into your member FDIC insured deposit account using many of them.

The prepaid debit card will carry a set amount of money already on it, which you pay into it to use it.

Let’s say you’d pay $100 for a $100 prepaid card, for example, plus potentially some fees.

When you have spent that amount, you can reload more money and keep using them. Though with some cards, you’ll need to throw them away and get a new one.

Prepaid cards are an excellent way for people who don’t want to open a bank account to have a convenient debit card.

They’re also an excellent and secure way of paying online. If someone hacks your card, they’ll only be able to use the money you have on it and not access your entire bank account info!

Keep in mind that prepaid ATM cards usually also have high fees and spending limits, so if you need a long-term solution, you might be better off with a bank debit card.

Store Debit Cards

You can get prepaid cards from Walmart, CVS, and many other convenience stores, superstores, and even grocery stores.

Buying a card at a store is probably the fastest way to get one since you’ll only need to pay for it without providing any personal information.

Online Debit Cards

You can also buy your prepaid debit card online. Many websites offer cards with different features and amounts.

Unlike store debit cards, you’ll have to disclose some personal information to get a debit card online.

This information is most likely to be your full name, an ID or drivers’ license, SSN, and perhaps a few other things depending on what the bank needs.

Rewards Debit Cards

Rewards are more commonly offered paired with credit cards than debit cards, but some debit cards have rewards.

Credit card rewards are usually higher and include cashback because the bank earns more when you use credit cards.

Common debit card rewards are points you can use at selected retailers to have discounts or redeem prizes, games, and credit discounts.

Teens Debit Cards

A great way to give your teens an allowance is to put it on a prepaid debit card.

Prepaid debit card purchases can be made by virtually anyone who has the money to do so and can even be less risky than regular ones. So, prepaid debit cards make great gifts for teens!

They might still not be the best option, though, considering their high fees. So you might want to consider getting your teen a debit card from a bank instead.

Teens can get a regular bank debit card, but they’ll need an adult to co-open a bank account with them first.

Capital One has a teen account called MONEY, which requires no monthly maintenance fees or minimum deposits and is easy to open online.

Capital One mobile app even has money management tools to help teenagers learn about personal finance.

Wells Fargo has a Teen Checking Account that also lets teens 13 or older open a checking account with a connected debit card included.

This account has no monthly fees and a starting deposit of only $25.

How To Get A Debit Card FAQs

How do I get a debit card for the first time?

To get a regular bank debit card, you’ll need to:

  1. First, open a bank account.
  2. Then, request a debit card to a bank representative and wait 7 to 10 days to arrive.
  3. The final step is to activate it. A bank representative can help you do that – or you’ll need to follow the instructions sent to you by the bank.

After these three steps, you are free to use your card at the ATM, add and withdraw money from your account most of the time without added in-network ATM fees, and pay with it anywhere you want.

Nowadays, cardholders can also use mobile banking and pay with contactless apps such as Apple Pay or Google Pay on mobile devices without any transaction fee.

How do you get a debit card?

Depending on what you had in mind, there are several ways you could obtain a new debit card.

To get a card from a financial institution, you should follow the steps detailed in the article above. In summary, talk to a bank representative to request one.

You can do it online, by calling a phone number, or in person, depending on which bank or credit union holds the account that you want to link to your debit card.

To get a prepaid debit card, you only need to apply for one online and wait for it to arrive or to buy one at a store.

They’ll have a predetermined amount to spend and don’t necessarily need you to have a bank account.

How much money do you need to get a debit card?

Most banks need you to make a minimum starting deposit or keep a minimum balance in the bank account to avoid fees.

Some online banks especially, though, don’t have such limits, so it’s always best to contact the financial institution directly to ask for more specific information.

Can a 13-year-old have a debit card?

Yes, 13-year-olds can have debit cards, provided that an adult co-signs and agrees to own their bank account jointly.

Wells Fargo, for example, has a teen checking account for young people 13 or older.

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