What is a debit card?

A debit card is such an everyday item to most people that it’s often simply called a “bank card”. It allows you access to the money in your bank account. This includes making purchases from your account or withdrawing cash from an ATM (cash machine).

An alternative to a debit card would be to physically go to your bank and withdraw cash. You would then carry that cash around from one place to the next. For most people, doing this on a regular basis would be impractical, so a debit card is a valuable accessory.

A debit card shouldn’t be confused with a credit card, which we’ll come to later.

How does a debit card work?

Do I need a debit card?

How do I get a debit card?

What is the difference between a debit card and a credit card?

How does a debit card work?

When a debit card is used at a shop or ATM, several points of contact are involved. The shop, card reader company, payment card company and your bank are all contacted, yet the process takes seconds.

Debit cards come with a four-digit PIN (personal identification number) you can use to access cash at an ATM. This can also be used to make purchases in shops.

The details on cards can also be used for online payments. You can even connect your card to a device such as a smartphone. That way, payments can be made with the phone without the need for a physical card.

Paying by card in a store is usually free. Some businesses may charge transaction fees or have a minimum card transaction policy, but this is becoming increasingly rare.

How long is a debit card valid for?

A debit card is usually valid for between two to five years. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll lose access to the funds in your account after it expires. In most cases, you will simply be sent a new card by your bank. If your circumstances have changed, the bank may offer you a different card.

If you lose or damage your debit card before it expires, you can order a new one from your bank.

Visit our page for lost, stolen or damaged Co-operative Bank cards here.

Can I pay online with a debit card?

In most cases, yes, you can use your debit card to make a payment online. You will need to enter your 16-digit card number, your name as it appears on your bank account, an expiry date and a three-digit security code into an online form and the payment is processed.

For added security, some online payments require two-factor authentication. This might mean a code is sent to your phone or email address to make sure it’s really you making the payment.

Like in a store, a transaction fee for using a debit card online is rare, but not unheard of.

Can I use my debit card abroad?

You will be able to use your debit card in most countries. Most UK banks charge a fee for transactions in currencies other than pound sterling, however. This will usually be a currency conversion fee of around 3% of the transaction, as well as a small transaction fee. Payments will be converted into pounds using the rate on the day of the transaction.

Learn more about using your Co-operative Bank card abroad.

Is my debit card contactless? Can I pay with my phone?

If your debit card has a Wi-Fi-looking symbol on it, it’s likely that it has contactless technology.

Most new Visa and Mastercard debit cards can be used to make contactless payments, either through tapping your card on a payment reader or through digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Wallet. Some wearable devices, like smart watches, also support contactless payments.

When paying with contactless, a PIN isn’t necessary for purchases below £100 – you can simply hold your card over the reader and the payment is processed digitally.

After a certain number of transactions, or after a certain amount of contactless spending, you’ll need to enter your PIN before you are able to use contactless again. This is to help protect against fraud.

To learn more about contactless payments, visit our contactless page. For help with setting up a Digital Wallet, visit our Ways to bank page.

Do I need a debit card?

In theory, it is possible to get by without a debit card and use cash instead. However, you would have to make regular trips to the bank, probably with a form of ID. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to do this.

An alternative to debit card payments is to pay by writing a cheque. This traditional form of cash transaction is becoming increasingly rare, however, and many businesses will no longer accept it. Part of the reason for this is that cheque payments can take several days to clear.

Some businesses will accept a bank transfer as a form of payment. A bank transfer allows you to quickly move money from one account to another and can usually be done on the go through mobile banking. Other ways to make a bank transfer can include in branch or by phone. Bank transfers don’t offer the same type of spending protection as debit or credit cards, though. Never make a bank transfer payment to someone you don’t know. Learn more about common scams here.

Still, payments without a physical card are possible. As we’ve mentioned, some people make more of their payments with their phone by holding it over a card reader. You also don’t necessarily need your card to make payments online, provided you have access to the card details.

How do I get a debit card?

Usually, a debit card will be sent to you by post automatically once you’ve opened a bank account. If you need a new one for any reason, this shouldn’t be a problem. Simply ask your bank, either by phone, online or in a branch.

When you get a debit card for the first time, you will also be given its PIN. Most banks send this in the post separately to your card for security reasons. You should memorise your PIN and avoid sharing it with anyone. If you need to replace an existing debit card, your PIN will normally remain the same, unless it has been reported stolen or there are concerns around potential fraud.

What is the difference between a debit card and a credit card?

In short, a debit card is not a form of borrowing. It’s simply a way to access funds already in your bank account. If you put £100 into your bank account, for example, your debit card gives you access to that £100.

A credit card is a card given to you by a bank or other lender with an agreed spending limit. This amount is borrowed from the lender, so you will need to either pay it off in full, or make minimum monthly repayments.

Credit cards also come with interest rates, although some may have an initial 0% interest rate period. Unless you repay your credit card debt in full within this period, you will pay back more than you borrow.

The phrase “credit card” is sometimes wrongly used to refer to any card payment. However, the distinction between a credit card and a debit card is an important one.

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