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Using a debit card as a credit card: is it possible?

When making in-store purchases, the payment terminal provides the option to select credit or debit. As such, it is possible to choose "credit" instead of "debit" when making purchases in-store and online with a debit card, however, that doesn't mean that your debit card is technically being used as a credit card.

Debit cards are connected to a checking account, while credit cards provide a line of credit from which you can borrow, meaning the two types of cards are actually very different.
While you may choose to use your debit card as credit, the money for your purchases will still be deducted from the funds available in your checking account. The withdrawal may take slightly longer (a few hours or possibly a day or two) than if you selected a debit card payment, but if you don’t have the cash to cover the purchase you could run into an overdraft situation.
Overdraft occurs when you don't have enough money in your bank account to cover your withdrawal transactions. In these cases, a transaction may or may not be completed depending on the financial institution.
At Credit Union of Southern California (CU SoCal), we make it easy to get a debit card.
Call 866.287.6225 today to schedule a no-obligation consultation and learn about our mortgages, home equity lines of credit, auto loans, personal loans, checking and savings accounts, and other banking products. As a full-service financial institution, we look forward to helping you with all your banking needs.

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How does using a debit card as credit work?

To understand how debit cards work, it’s important to understand how credit cards work.
Credit cards allow you to borrow money from the creditor (up to a specific limit) to make purchases and withdraw cash. When you use a credit card, the amount you spend is automatically added to your outstanding balance. At the end of your billing cycle (typically 28 to 31 days, you will receive your monthly statement that states a payment due date. You can choose whether to pay the bill in full or only pay the minimum payment.
When you use a debit card as credit, you are not "borrowing" money and then repaying it later, as with a credit card. Instead, the entire transaction amount is debited from your checking account.
How to use a debit card as credit
Using a debit card as credit is easy, simply select “credit” on the payment terminal at point of purchased when you shop.
The only difference between selecting debit and credit is that there will be a short delay in the processing of the transaction, from a few hours to one or three days.
If you do not have the money in your checking account to pay for the transactions, this is called overdraft. If you use your card to make a purchase and there aren’t sufficient funds in your checking account to cover the charge, an overdraft fee will likely be charged on your account.
Overdraft protection is a service offered by credit unions and banks to help you avoid overdrafts on your account. There are several types of overdraft protection options, so if an overdraft should occur, the money needed to complete the transaction is covered. For example, CU SoCal’s Rewards Debit Card includes overdraft protection.
When should I use debit vs. credit?
Debit card transactions are immediately withdrawn from your account, which means your account balance is updated in real-time. This makes budgeting easier because you’ll know exactly how much money you have available.
Credit cards are ideal for large dollar amount purchases, so you won’t have to drain your checking account to make the purchase. You’ll have a full billing cycle to add money to your checking account before your bill payment is due.
If you’d like to support smaller retailers and other merchants, then make your purchase with a debit card, which will save them some money. Credit card companies charge merchants a processing fee that is not charged on debit card transactions.
Most credit cards and some debit cards earn points and rewards, so you may want to weigh which of your cards give better rewards and earnings. For example, CU SoCal’s Rewards Checking Account offers a monthly dividend on average account balances, reward points on debit card purchases, and fully-managed identity theft recovery services.

Pros and Cons of using a debit card as credit


  • Depending on your bank or credit card’s account features, you may earn rewards points by using your debit card as a credit card.


  • If you are using your debit card as credit at small and local merchants, they may be charged fees if you use the card in this manner.
  • Transaction processing time is not instant, so it’s a little tougher to track your account balance.
  • A foreign transaction fee is usually charged if you use your debit card to make purchases in foreign countries. This includes use of an ATM, and additional ATM charges may apply.

Can you build credit with a debit card?

No, using a debit card doesn't build your credit score because the money is withdrawn directly from your account and therefore no credit is given, as with a credit card.

Can you use a debit as credit if you’re account balance is low?

While it is possible to use a debit card as credit, if your checking account balance is low, you cannot use a debit card as credit if you have insufficient funds (unless you have overdraft protection).

Can you use a debit card as credit to make purchases online?

Yes, using a debit card as credit to make purchases online can be done if the card has the Visa or Mastercard logo on it. Online merchants typically do not distinguish between debit card and credit card payments. When you check out from the payment just fill in your card information - card number, expiration date and CVV code on the back of the card.

Many people want to know if it’s safe to use a debit card as credit online. Using a credit card online to make purchases from home or a secure internet connection is generally safe, but you should always keep the above precautions in mind. However, if you have available credit then using a credit card is a safer choice.

Debit cards vs credit cards: which is better?

Although it's possible to use a debit card as credit, there are times when using one versus the other are advantageous. Here are the pros and cons of each option:

Debit card pros and cons


  • Prevent credit card debt. Because debit cards withdraw money from your checking account, you won’t accrue high-interest credit card debt.
  • Convenient. Debit cards can be used at ATMs in the U.S. and abroad, and for purchases in stores and online.
  • No annual fee. When connected to a classic or traditional checking account, there is no fee to have a debit card, even if you don’t use it.


  • Overdraft fees. These are fees the financial institution charges if a purchase is made for more money than is in the checking account.
  • Not feasible for expensive purchases. A debit card can only be used to make purchases that you have enough cash in your checking account to cover. For example, most people don’t keep enough money in their checking account to purchase a car.
  • High risk of theft. If your wallet and debit card is lost or stolen, your card could be used, and your checking account emptied through unauthorized purchases. A thief could also access your checking account. Never keep your debit card PIN number in your wallet with your card.

Credit card pros and cons


  • Convenient. Credit cards are accepted in stores, online and around the world.
  • Earn rewards and points. Most credit cards come with rewards points and cash-back options, and the car issuers are competing for your business. This means consumers benefit from generous rewards.
  • Purchase Protection. If an item purchased using a credit card breaks or you have a dispute with the merchant, credit card companies can help you get reimbursed, dispute charges, and provide other protection such as insurance on purchases.


  • Fees. The greatest disadvantage to credit cards is the fees. Some cards charge monthly or annual fees. Late fees are charged whenever you fail to pay the minimum monthly requirement on your account.

Why savvy consumers choose CU SoCal

For over 60 years CU SoCal has been providing financial services, including mortgages, Home Equity Loans, HELOCs, car loans, personal loans, credit cards, and other banking products, to those who live, work, worship, or attend school in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County.
Please give us a call today at 866.287.6225 today to schedule a no-obligation loan consultation with a CU SoCal Member Services specialist.

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Credit Union of Southern California (CU SoCal) is a leading financial institution empowering those who live, work, worship, or attend school in Orange County, Los Angeles County, Riverside County, and San Bernardino County to reach their goals and build strong financial futures. CU SoCal provides access to convenient money management services and offers competitive rates and flexible terms on auto loans, mortgages, and VISA credit cards—turning wishing and waiting into achieving and doing.


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