What are the types of debit card?

So, what are the types of debit cards? 

You can find check debit cards, ATM cards, EMV debit cards, and prepaid debit cards. The most common ones are check and EMV debit cards, but many people also use ATM cards and prepaid debit cards, such as gift cards.

Most people have used some type of debit card in their lifetime. With fast processing speeds and easy transactions, you might be surprised at how many different types of debit cards there truly are.

This article will dive into the differences between the different types of debit cards. I’ll even show you the advantages of using one. 

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The Most Common Types of Debit Card

There are five different types of debit cards. Debit card types include check, EMV, ATM cards, prepaid, and EBT. Each debit card type has a specific purpose, meaning not all debit cards work the same.

Here is a brief summary of each of the different type of debit cards:

  • Check debit cards: These cards are connected to checking accounts. They have a magnetic stripe that is swiped for payment.
  • EMV debit cards: EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa. These cards have an embedded smart chip that can be used for contactless payments in addition to the stripe.
  • ATM cards: ATM cards can only be used for withdrawals, deposits, and checking your balance at an ATM.
  • Prepaid debit cards: These cards can be continuously refilled or purchased as a one-time amount, such as a gift card.
  • EBT debit cards: EBT debit cards are used for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) across the U.S.

1. Check Debit Cards

Check debit cards are the most basic and common debit cards. If someone says they are paying with debit, they will be referring to this type of card most of the time.

Check cards are linked to a bank or credit union checking account or money market account. Purchases made with the check card withdraw funds from the checking or money market account. These debit cards must be swiped for use and may require you to enter a PIN to confirm your purchase.

Check debit cards cannot spend more than the linked account holds, making it more challenging to overspend or overdraw your account. Because it uses a debit system, debit cards will not build your credit.

2. EMV Debit Cards

EMV debit cards are just like check debit cards, but they also have an embedded smart chip in addition to the magnetic stripe. This chip is used as extra security against fraud. EMV cards will also require a PIN for larger purchases.

To pay with an EMV card, you must physically enter the card into the machine. Some machines also offer a contactless option with the smart chip. Contactless allows you to hold the card above the reader and pay without ever touching your card to the machine. 

Most modern cards in the U.S. are now being created with the smart chip, although other countries have been using it for over a decade.

3. ATM Cards

ATM cards are typically connected to savings accounts, although they can also be connected to a checking account. These debit cards cannot be used for purchases, but instead are used for financial transactions at your nearest ATM.

You can withdraw, deposit, and check your balance with your ATM card. Often, you will receive both a check or EMV card and an ATM card when you open a new account at a banking institution.

4. Prepaid Debit Cards

Prepaid debit cards are used similarly to check debit cards, but their funding source is different. You can either purchase a reloadable prepaid debit card or a prepaid debit card for a fixed amount. You can fund these cards with cash or credit cards.

Reloadable debit cards are a great way to stick to your budget. This is because you can add money to your card and not overspend or overdraft. Trying to pay more than the card balance will result in the transaction not going through.

Fixed amount debit cards are often used as gift cards and can be general (Visa, MasterCard, etc.) or used at a specific retailer.

You can buy both types of prepaid debit cards online or at large retailers such as Walmart.

5. EBT Cards

EBT cards stand for Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. This is a type of prepaid debit card given to individuals who have been accepted into SNAP. Previously known as “food stamps”, EBT cards are automatically reloaded monthly by the state with a set amount to be used for food.

Advantages of a Debit Card

Debit cards are so advantageous that close to 90% of Americans ages 18+ own one. These convenient cards:

  • Have no annual fees
  • Are interest-free
  • Help with budgeting
  • Eliminate debt
  • Are widely accepted
  • Add extra security through a PIN

Most debit cards have no annual fees and are easy to acquire. Even for those with poor credit, a debit card can usually be opened online or in-person in minutes. 

Do look out for associated checking accounts with maintenance fees. Fees can be avoided by doing your research before choosing your bank or credit union.

Once you have your debit card, you can use it without interest. Unlike credit cards, which can charge up to 20% APY, debit cards let you use your money without charging interest. This is perfect for those trying to stay on a budget since it’s nearly impossible to accumulate debt with your debit card.

Be wary of overdrawing from your associated account, which may happen during a big purchase. However, your card will be declined most of the time to avoid an overdraft. Opt for a reloadable prepaid debit card if you want extra security against spending more than you have.

Finally, debit cards are truly convenient and widely accepted. They are used in over 142 countries, and your PIN adds an extra layer of security for all of your purchases.

Final Thoughts

When choosing your debit card, you can pick between a check card, EMV card, or prepaid debit card/gift card. If you receive benefits from SNAP, you will use an EBT debit card. Most debit cards are linked with a checking account, and almost all of them are associated with Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.

Debit cards are reliable, secure, and easy to use. If you don’t have one yet, consider trying one out for a more convenient way to pay.


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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.