How does a debit card account work

How does a debit card account work?

A debit card account is linked to your bank’s checking account. The bank issues you a debit card which you can use to make purchases. The money in your checking account is debited for the purchase.

Debit cards give you easy access to the money in your checking account. You can make purchases online or on the go.

Luckily for you, I’ll show you how a debit card account works. I’ll even show you how to get your own debit card account, including things to consider. You’ll be on your way to getting your first debit card in no time.

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How Does a Debit Card Account Work?

Debit card accounts are simply a debit card that is linked to your checking account. Your debit card will let you purchase items with the funds inside of your checking account. Debit cards are usually offered to bank members without fee and offer easy access to your cash.

A debit card account is one of the most basic accounts offered at all major banking institutions. It is also referred to as a checking account or general bank account.

Prepaid debit cards do not have connected accounts and do not fit this category.

Debit card accounts are opened by those 18 years or older at a bank or credit union. Minors as young as 13 years old may access a debit card account by opening a joint account with their parent or guardian.

How to open a debit card account

You can open a debit card account by visiting your local bank. Bring a valid identification, social security card, bill with your address, and an initial deposit. Your bank will print you a debit card which you can then activate at an ATM or over the phone.

To open a debit card account, you may need to provide your:

  • Valid driver’s license or equivalent government-issued ID
  • Social Security Card
  • A current bill with your name and address/proof of address
  • An initial deposit

Once your account is opened, your banking institution will give or mail you a new debit card associated with your account. You can likely access this account online or through an app for easy monitoring.

When you receive your debit card, you may need to activate it at a local ATM, bank branch, or by calling the institution. You will need to create a PIN to use your debit card for purchases and at ATMs.

Your debit card will likely be associated with either Visa or Mastercard, meaning it will be accepted at any commerce location (online or in-person) that accepts these brands. The funds are automatically withdrawn from your debit card when you pay with your debit card account.

If you try to pay for a larger charge than your available funds, your debit card will likely be declined. Some online payments take a few days to process, meaning there is a chance of overdrafting your account, after which your bank could charge you an overdraft fee.

Choosing Your Debit Card Account

When choosing your debit card account institution, consider the associated fees, balance requirements, ATM availability, and customer service. Ideally, you will choose an account without fees, easy access to your money, and great customer service.


Many debit card accounts come with low or no fees for easy use. On the other hand, certain banks are notorious for charging customers if they don’t meet their account requirements.

Some fees you want to look out for before signing up for your debit card account include:

  • Monthly maintenance fees
  • Overdraft fees
  • ATM fees
  • Foreign transactions fees
  • Account closure fees
  • Excessive transactions fees
  • Wire transfer fees

Generally speaking, online debit card accounts are the best way to avoid these hassles and find an account that you can use for free.

Minimum Balance Requirements

Certain institutions require you to maintain a minimum balance in your account. If you fall below this number, you may be subject to another fee or consequence.

Your money should be available when you need it – every last cent. Aim to open a debit card account that does not pose a minimum balance requirement.

ATM Availability

Especially if using an online or smaller bank, you’ll want to make sure you can access a range of ATMs for efficient deposits and withdrawals. Some institutions charge you a fee for using an out-of-range ATM, while others may have connections with partnered ATMs to give you the most options for free deposits and withdrawals.

Customer Service

Last but not least, make sure to check out online reviews or go to your local branch in person to meet with a representative. It’s essential to confirm that your institution’s customer service is up to par. After all, you want to put your money into trusted hands!

Do Debit Cards Need a Bank Account?

You can access a debit card without a bank account on certain occasions. Prepaid debit cards are the easiest way to bypass banks or credit unions. You can purchase a prepaid debit card from credit card companies, retailers, and other financial service providers.

Since all debit cards must be associated with a funding source, you’ll need some connected account for debit cards that are not prepaid.

Does It Cost Money to Open a Debit Card Account?

Many debit card accounts are free and easy to sign up for. These offer no fees or required minimum balances for use. Most online-only debit card accounts fit this criterion.

Every financial institution is different regarding fees and surcharges for accounts. Others may include a long list of fees their customers are liable for. Always read the fine print and ensure you’re aware of any charges the institution may spring upon you.

Do You Have to Pay Every Month for a Debit Card?

Monthly fees associated with debit card accounts are called maintenance fees. They typically range from $6-$15 per month. Many banks – especially online ones – offer no monthly fees for debit card accounts.

If your bank requires a monthly fee, they usually provide options to avoid paying it.

Some ways you might be able to avoid the monthly fee for your account include:

  • Setting up direct deposit into your account
  • Keeping a monthly minimum balance
  • Add extra products to your account from that institution
  • Be a student

Again, plenty of banks will not charge you a fee for having and using a debit card account.

Summary: How Does a Debit Card Account work?

Debit card accounts are outstanding for efficient payments, avoiding debt, and monitoring your spending.

With so many accounts and banking options, we recommend debit card accounts with low or no fees and ample ATM distribution.

With the ability to pay on the go and access ATMs across the country, your debit card works with you to better manage your money.

John is the founder of TightFist Finance and an expert in the field of personal finance. John has studied personal finance for over 10 years and has used his knowledge to pay down debt, grow his investment portfolio, and launch a financial based business. He is committed to sharing content related to personal finance based on his experience in his career, investing, and path towards reaching financial independence.