Teen guide: How to handle your first debit card

Congratulations! Getting a debit card is a big step toward managing your own money—but with financial freedom comes responsibility. As a first-time debit card carrier, here’s what you should know.

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How debit cards work

A debit card gives you 24/7 access to your checking account.

When you use the card to pay for things or get cash, the money comes out of your account, so you can only spend, or withdraw, as much as you have in there. You may be able to monitor your account balance and track your spending with your bank’s mobile app or online.  

A note about prepaid cards

A prepaid card is not attached to a checking account. Instead, you add money directly to the card. Make sure you know the terms of the card—some have activation fees, monthly fees and per-transaction fees, and some may not offer protection if the card is lost or stolen. 

Where & how?

Put your card to work

  • Just about anywhere you can use a credit card, including online. You may need to enter your PIN or CVV (the 3-digit code on your card), and some places, like gas stations, may place a “hold” on your account for more than the purchase amount. Make sure you have enough to cover it.
  •  At an ATM to get cash. To avoid a fee, use your bank’s ATM or get cash back when you make a debit card purchase at some grocery or retail stores.

Consider uploading your debit card to a mobile wallet(Link: What is a digital wallet?). Then you can make purchases using your mobile device.

Avoid the fee trap

Fees can add up fast if you’re not careful. You might get charged if:

You spend too much using your debit card, and your checking account balance dips below the minimum required to avoid the account’s monthly maintenance fee. Make sure you know what that minimum is so you can manage your spending accordingly. You could also set up alerts through mobile or online banking so you know when your balance is getting too low.

You buy something with your debit card but don’t have enough money in your checking account to cover it. If you’ve opted into overdraft coverage, you’ll be allowed to make the purchase even if you don’t have enough money in your account. However, you may owe the bank that money plus a fee that could be charged every time this happens, even multiple times in one day.

You use an ATM that isn’t associated with your bank.

Safeguard your card

It’s smart to keep your card in your wallet, purse or another safe place. For even more security:

  • Download your bank’s mobile app, if available, to track your purchases and account balance and to set up text or email alerts. Some banks also let you lock and unlock your debit card in the app.
  • Choose a PIN you can remember but someone else can’t guess (for example, don’t use your birthday). Don’t share your PIN with anyone, and remember to change it regularly.
  • Don’t keep your card number or PIN on your phone or (worse!) on an easy-to-lose piece of paper.
  • Keep your contact information current so your bank can reach you in case there’s suspicious activity on your account.
  • Tell the card company immediately if your card is lost or stolen. They’ll walk you through what to do and can send you a new one.

Ask for help

Your parents may have helped you get your debit card. They can also help you learn ways to monitor your account, like setting up text alerts when you make a purchase, so you can always practice smart spending.

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The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its affiliates, and Khan Academy, assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional when making decisions regarding your financial or investment options.

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