Woman using debit card at a convenience store

A Comprehensive Guide to Smart Debit Card Use

November 9, 2023 by Chevron Federal Credit Union

Whether you're making everyday purchases, shopping online or need quick cash from an ATM, a debit card can be your best companion. However, like all good things, there are pros and cons to using debit cards.

Here’s what you need to know — and how to stay safe when using your debit card.

How debit cards work

When you open a bank account, you're typically issued a debit card. This card is directly linked to your bank account, acting as an access point to the funds you have deposited. Each time you make a purchase or withdraw cash at an ATM using your debit card, the corresponding amount is debited directly from your bank balance. This direct connection ensures real-time updates on your account balance, allowing you to keep a close eye on your finances.

Advantages of using your debit card

Compared to the hassle of writing checks or relying on credit cards, debit cards can have some serious advantages. 

  • Personal identification number (PIN) security: One of the significant advantages of using a debit card is the added layer of security. This ensures that only you can access your funds.
  • No debt accumulation: Unlike credit cards, debit cards draw money directly from your bank account, preventing you from accumulating debt.
  • Convenience: Debit cards offer unmatched convenience, allowing you to make transactions at various merchant locations and facilitating online purchases effortlessly.
  • Easy access to cash: If you do need to make a quick cash withdrawal, your debit card also acts as an ATM card, allowing you to withdraw funds without the added charges imposed by credit card companies.

Disadvantages of using your debit card

There are also potential disadvantages to using your debit card you should be aware of:

  • No credit building: While responsible use of credit cards can help build your credit score, debit cards do not contribute to your credit history. If you're looking to establish or improve your credit, this could be a drawback.
  • Limits on large purchases: Some debit cards have daily spending limits, which might pose a challenge if you plan to make significant purchases. It's essential to be aware of these limits to avoid inconveniences.
  • Potential holds and disputes: When you use your debit card for hotel stays, car rentals or even at gas stations, merchants may place a hold on a certain amount of your funds. These holds can tie up your money, affecting your available balance until the transaction is fully processed, which could take several days.
  • Vulnerability to skimming devices: Debit cards are susceptible to skimming devices, which are used by fraudsters to steal card information. These devices can be placed on ATMs, gas pumps or other card readers. When you use a compromised machine, your card details can be copied, leading to unauthorized transactions. While you’re protected from unauthorized transactions, having your card information stolen could result in delays, temporary account holds and other headaches. 

Protect your finances when using your debit card

Debit cards come equipped with security features to safeguard your funds, including PINs, EMV chips, and, in some cases, biometric authentication. However, you can still make additional moves to safeguard your card (and your bank account). 

  • Regularly monitor your account: Keep a close eye on your bank account transactions. Regular monitoring can help you quickly detect any unauthorized or suspicious activity.
  • Use secure websites: When making online purchases, ensure the website is secure (look for "https://" and a padlock icon in the address bar). Avoid entering your card details on unsecured or suspicious websites.
  • Shield your PIN: Always shield your PIN when entering it at ATMs or point-of-sale terminals. Be cautious of your surroundings.
  • Set up account alerts: Most banks offer account alert services, notifying you of any transactions over a specified amount. Utilize these alerts to stay informed about your account activity.

Have questions about your debit card? Reach out to us anytime


From everyday finance to life’s big money moments, it’s better when you belong.