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If you’re like most people, you probably have a debit card—a Visa or Mastercard that’s attached to your checking account. You swipe the card at merchants just like a credit card, but instead of withdrawing from a credit line, the money comes out of your own personal checking account.
You’ve probably used your debit card in a lot of places – from restaurants to movie theaters to your gym or the grocery store. But can you use a debit card online? The short answer is absolutely! Is it always a good idea? That answer is a bit more complicated.
You can purchase just about anything online. In some cases, you can buy things online that you’d never be able to find in your local area, and they’re delivered right to your door or mailbox. There are times, however, when your debit card isn’t the best idea for online purchasing. There are certain risks to keep in mind.
Should You Always Use a Debit Card Online?
Using your debit card is incredibly convenient. It works anywhere that accepts credit cards, and many merchants will allow you to save your card information, either on their website or a mobile app. That can make online shopping an absolute breeze, but it also puts your personal information at risk for identity theft, fraud, and other nasty consequences if the wrong person gets a hold of your data.
In the last few years, data breaches and leaks have been a growing concern. Can you be absolutely sure that the merchant you’re entrusting your information to is going to protect it correctly? The truth is that you can’t—and the number of companies who have seen their customer information get stolen is a testament to just how dangerous it can be to use a debit card online.
As an alternative to debit cards, you can use a credit card and simply make the payment right away once the charge shows up on your account. Using a credit card offers more protection from fraud—you’re generally not liable for any purchases you didn’t personally authorize—and it also protects your bank account information and balance. Even if your bank covers unauthorized purchases, it can still take a few days or even weeks to rectify an issue—and that means an empty bank account in the meantime.
You can think of a credit card as a shield for your bank account; however, don’t forget that using a credit card online also carries risk in different ways.
Aside From Using a Credit Card, How Can You Safely Use a Debit Card Online?
If you’d rather not use credit to purchase things online, there are still things you can do to protect yourself. You can stick to well-known, verified merchants like Amazon. You can also check with your bank before using your debit card online. Ask about their consumer protection policy for online purchases. Some banks already have programs in place to help you guard against fraud, and even have people to help you if fraud does occur.
Shopping online with a debit card doesn’t have to be a bad idea. It can be incredibly convenient, but it can also put your bank account information at risk. Before you use your debit card, make sure you’re protected.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
Jeff Gitlen writes about a wide range of finance topics including everything from student loans to credit cards to small business financing. Jeff's work has been featured on a number of sites including Bloomberg, CNBC, Forbes, Market Watch, and more.