Checking | Auto Loans | Mortgage | HELOC | Personal Loans | Credit Cards | Membership

Is a debit card a checking or savings account?

A debit card is not a checking account, it is a card linked to a checking account. The primary difference between a debit and checking account is that a checking account holds money, whereas a debit card simply provides access to that money.

Debit cards are convenient to have and can be used to withdraw money from an ATM, making online and in-store purchases. When using a debit card for in-store transactions you can receive cash back at the register.
At Credit Union of Southern California (CU SoCal), we make opening a checking account easy!
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.

Get Started on Your Checking Account Today!

What are debit cards and how do they work?

When you open a checking account. Debit cards for may be issued by a credit union or bank, or an online bank. You may be wondering, is a debit card a checking account or savings account. A debit card is not an account, it is a card linked to an account that gives direct access to the money in your account.
Before using a debit card it’s important to make sure you have money in your account to cover the entire cost of your intended purchase or ATM withdrawal. If you don’t have enough money and still go ahead with the purchase or withdrawal, your account will be “overdrawn,” and your credit union or bank will likely charge you overdraft fees.
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 that credit unions and bank offer, so if an overdraft should occur the money needed to complete the transaction is covered.
Debit card pros and cons
As with all financial products there are pros and cons. Here are some to consider before you get and use a debit card.


  1. Prevent credit card debt. Because debit cards withdraw money from your checking account you can only purchase what you can pay for. This eliminates over-spending that is typical with credit cards.
  2. Convenient. Debit cards can be used at ATMs in the U.S. and abroad, and for purchases in stores and online.
  3. 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


  1. Overdraft fees. These fees are charged by credit unions and banks when you withdraw more money than is in your checking account.
  2. Not feasible for expensive purchases. A debit card can only be used to make purchases that you have enough cash in your account to cover. There may also be daily withdrawal limits. For example, in most cases it’s not feasible, or possible, purchase a brand-new car using a debit card.
  3. High risk of theft. If your debit card is lost or stolen it 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.
How do debit cards compare?
There are so many types of accounts to choose from these days that it can get a little confusing. Here’s how debit cards compare to checking accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, and more.
Debit card Vs. checking accounts
The difference between a debit and checking account is that a debit card is linked to an account into which you regularly deposit funds, but it is not an account. When you use your debit card to make purchases or withdrawals, the money comes out of your account.
Debit card Vs. savings accounts
Debit cards can be used to make online purchases or for withdrawing money at ATMs or used in-person at the store. Although a savings account can have a debit card linked to it, these accounts are primarily for savings money, not making daily or weekly withdrawals.
Debit card Vs. credit cards
The difference between a debit card and a credit card is that purchases made with a debit card will immediately withdraw the funds from the deposit account the card is connected to. All purchases made with a credit card are charged to the credit card account and a monthly bill statement is sent to you.
Debit card Vs. checks
Checks are linked to a checking account and can be used to pay for in-store purchases and to pay bills. Checks are often used to pay people for services they provide in your home, such as a handyman, plumber, or outside the home, such as a mechanic.
Debit card Vs. ATM cards
An ATM card can only be used at ATM machines to withdraw money or check your account balance. You cannot make purchases with an ATM card.

How to get a debit card

It’s easy to obtain a debit card, just follow these steps:
  1. Open a deposit account.
    A deposit account is an account into which you can deposit money. Examples of deposit accounts are checking, savings, and money market accounts. Each of these account types typically includes a free debit card linked to the account.
  2. Request your debit card.
    After you’ve successfully opened an account at the credit union or bank of your choice, you may request a debit card. If you open the account in-person, the account representative will assist you with the request. If you apply online, just follow the on-screen prompts. Debit cards are free with a qualifying account.
  3. Activate your debit card.
    Your debit card will arrive in the mail within 7-10 days of your request. The card will have a sticker across it with card activation instructions. Debit cards can be activated online, through the financial institution’s mobile app, or by calling the phone number on the instruction sticker.


Can a debit card be used as a credit card?
For the most part, yes, a debit card can be used like a credit card. However, the amount of your purchase or withdrawal will be deducted from your account within a few hours to up to three days.

Do debit cards have fees?

Debit cards may have fees associated with their use. These are the most common fees to watch out for:
  1. Out-of-network fee: This fee is charged if you use an ATM that is not in your bank’s approved network.
  2. Foreign transaction fee: This fee is 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.
  3. Replacement fee: Some financial institutions charge a fee if the card is lost or stolen and needs to be replaced.
  4. Overdraft fee: 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. Some financial institutions provide overdraft protection options, so you don’t have to pay a penalty.
  5. Monthly fee: Some debit cards that are connected to rewards checking accounts come with a monthly fee.
Do debit cards offer rewards?
Some debit cards offer rewards when linked to a rewards checking account. You may earn rewards points that can be redeemed as merchandise, cash-back, or a credit to your account.
Is it safe to use a debit card online?
Generally, it is safe to use your debit card to make online purchases. However, to protect against debit card fraud consider using your credit card. Because a debit card is most often linked to a checking account, it is more vulnerable if fraud or identity theft occurs.
Do savings accounts come with debit cards?
Most savings accounts don’t come with a debit card but may offer an ATM card.
Do debit cards offer fraud protection?
Yes, according to the United States Federal Trade Commission, if your credit, ATM, or debit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits your liability for charges made without your permission, but your protection depends on the type of card—and when you report the loss.
Can I dispute debit card charges?
If you believe there is unauthorized withdrawals from your account report this to your credit union or bank as soon as possible. These cases are handled at the discretion of the financial institution. If you believe the charges are fraudulent (versus and error made by a merchant) you should ask that the card can be deactivated, so a new card can be issued to you with a new number.
Can you build credit with a debit card?
It is not possible to build credit with a debit card. This is because transactions made with a debit card draw the money from your own account, instead of a line of credit from a financial institution or lender.
How old do you have to be to get a debit card?
Debit card age requirements are set by each financial institution. Typically, the age to get a debit card is anywhere from 13 to 18 years old.
Do debit cards have limits?
Most credit unions and banks have daily debit card limits. This is to protect your account from becoming overdrawn and protect against theft, should your card be lost or stolen.

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.
Get Started on Your Checking Account Today!

Get Started on Your Checking Account Today!

Help + Support


Co-Browsing Code

Building Better Lives

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.


562.698.8326 | 866 CU SoCal Se Habla Español