How to get a debit card for the first time

Debit cards allow you to make purchases online or in-person by deducting money from your checking account. You can easily withdraw cash from your bank’s ATM network. Debit cards are a convenient and secure tool, and getting one is pretty simple.

So, are you wondering how to get a debit card for the first time? Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  1. Gather personal information required to open a checking account
  2. Apply for a checking account that has debit card privileges 
  3. Wait for your debit card to arrive, then activate it
  4. Spend your money without having to keep cash

Getting a debit card is fairly simple.

Luckily for you, I’ll show you how to get your first debit card. I’ll even show you how much it costs, requirements, and what to do if you don’t have a checking account. You’ll be getting your debit card in no time.

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How to Get Your First Debit Card

If you already have a checking account, getting your first debit card is as easy as calling your bank and requesting one over the phone, using your bank’s online account system, or walking into a physical bank branch to request a debit card that is linked to your checking account.

Be prepared: your bank will likely ask you some identifying security questions to issue you a debit card; Your bank may also ask for a valid government-issued ID if you apply for a debit card in person.

Assuming you don’t have a checking account, follow these steps to get your first debit card.

1. Gather the Required Documents for a New Checking Account

Debit cards are most often linked to checking accounts. The checking account is where you’ll deposit money to be available for debit card purchases. You can also set up automatic paycheck deposits with most employers, so you don’t have to deposit checks and cash manually.

According to Bank Rate, most banks will require the following items from you to open a new checking account in your name. Call your bank before you go through the effort to head into your local branch to ensure you have the required documents necessary to open the account when you get there.

Some, but not all, of these items may be required:

  • A valid, non-expired driver’s license or government-issued photo ID
  • A passport or another form of official identification, as noted by the issuing bank such as this list from Central Bank in the Midwest
  • A social security card number or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN)
  • A valid email address
  • Current employment information and information on your prior job if you’ve only been at your current job for less than 12 months
  • Proof of street address
  • Cash to deposit (the required amount ranges from $1 up, depending on the bank and type of account)

2. Apply for a Checking Account

Take your required documents to the local bank branch of your choice, or choose an online bank that has an application process that can be done over the internet.

The application process typically includes filling out an application, deciding which type of account you want to open (individual, joint, savings, checking, or specialty account), ensuring it has debit card privileges and submitting it for approval.

The application process is usually quick and simple. However, depending on the bank you choose, your account may not be ready to use for one to two days.

3. Wait For Your Debit Card to Arrive Then Activate It

Debit cards almost always take seven to 10 business days to receive in the mail, but your bank may be able to issue you a temporary debit card on the spot.

To activate your debit card, follow the instructions that arrive with your card in the mail or the instructions on the sticker that comes affixed to the front of the card.

Activating your card could be as simple as calling a specific bank phone number and confirming some key security questions and details. Or, your bank may require you to take your new debit card to one of the branch ATMs to insert it into the machine to activate it and set up a new PIN.

A PIN will be required to use your debit card to keep it secure and keep your cash safe from thieves.

4. Spend Your Money Without Having to Keep Cash

Now that your checking account is ready to use and your debit card is active, you can use it to spend your money at any location that accepts debit card transactions. Depending on whether your debit card is Visa, Mastercard, or another brand, you may be limited to which businesses accept which brands.

The amount you can spend on your debit card varies. Some banks allow you to withdraw only a certain amount of cash from an ATM using your debit card each day. Some banks allow you to spend as much money as is in your account.

Other banks will even allow you to spend more money than is in your account by letting you overdraft your account to avoid declined transactions in the store. Banks almost always charge a hefty fee for this service, though.

Is a Debit Card Free?

Most debit cards are completely free and are provided as a service by your bank or credit union.

However, not all checking accounts are free, to which your debit card is attached. When you set up your checking account, ask the bank about the monthly or annual fee to keep that checking account.

Some banks charge a flat rate for a checking account. Others charge different rates depending on how much cash you keep liquid in your checking account.

If you’re considering specialty debit cards, such as those made for kids under 18 years old or prepaid debit cards for people without a checking account, the debit card will most likely not be free.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Get a Debit Card?

According to Investopedia, traditional debit cards tied to checking accounts can only be given to children 13 years and older. No matter what, any child 18 years and younger will need a guardian or parent to co-sign on the checking account attached to the debit card.

A child and their parent or guardian would be listed as joint account holders on the checking account, and the child’s name may or may not be on the debit card, depending on your financial institution’s rules.

Some banks offer debit cards with spending privileges to children as young as six to start teaching good money habits early.

You may want to consider some debit cards for kids and teens, including Greenlight, BusyKid, FamZoo, and GoHenry. Some of these companies have no minimum age requirement, no minimum balance requirement, low to no fees.

Many of these first debit cards for kids will require that the card be pre-loaded with cash by the parent or guardian. They’ll also come with tools to teach your child about money, such as chore charts, allowance monitoring, and the ability for the parent to turn the card on and off.

How to Get a Debit Card Without a Bank Account

You can get a prepaid debit card if you want to have the convenience of a debit card but don’t want the responsibility of a checking account.  Prepaid debit cards are also good if you can’t legally open a checking account.

Prepaid debit cards allow you the benefits and convenience of using a card to pay for purchases. However, they’re less secure than a traditional debit card attached to a bank account and they’re usually not insured by the FDIC (though some are).

To get a prepaid debit card, such as Bluebird by American Express, Chime, or Walmart MoneyCard, take your cash into a store that sells prepaid debit cards and use it to pre-load the card with money. When the money’s gone, return to the store to reload it again.

Some prepaid debit cards are not free, unlike their traditional debit card counterparts. They may even charge you to load the card and charge you a monthly fee. Read the fine print carefully.

Summary: How to get a debit card for the first time

Getting a debit card for the first time is a simple process for anyone over the age of 18 and requires you first to open a checking account. If you’re under 18 years old, you’ll need your parent or guardian’s help. Just gather the necessary requirements to open a checking account, and you could have a debit card in hand in just over a week.

Debit cards are a convenient way to pay for things in cash rather than on credit cards, debiting the money right out of your checking account. Be sure to keep tabs on your checking account balance, though, as some banks charge big fees for approving debit card purchases that will overdraft your account.


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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.