By Justin Pritchard. Banking/Loans Expert
Justin Pritchard helps consumers navigate the world of banking.
Question: I’m shopping more and more online, and websites always ask for a credit card. Can I use my debit card online, and is it safe to do so?
However, just because you can use a debit card online doesn’t mean you should. Shopping online exposes you to certain risks, and there’s a chance that your card information will be stolen (those risks also exist in brick-and-mortar stores, but are sometimes easier to manage). If that happens, thieves will drain your bank account as they use the card number – whether they buy online or create fake cards bearing your card number for in-person purchases.
If your card information is used fraudulently, you might be protected, but getting that money back into your bank account is a painful and slow process.
How long can you live with an empty checking account? If you use a credit card. on the other hand, thieves are spending your card issuer’s money instead of pulling directly from your bank account. It’s nice to have a buffer in between thieves and your money. What’s more, when your credit card is used fraudulently, your liability is limited to $50, while debit card fraud can cost a lot more (especially if you don’t report fraudulent activity quickly enough).
Debit Card Protection
You’re generally protected from fraud to some extent, but you have to report trouble as soon as
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If you spot the problem and notify your bank, your liability might be limited to $50 (if you call your bank within two days of fraudulent use) or $500 (within 60 days) – but you might have to eat 100% the loss if you don’t get involved quickly enough.
Some debit cards come with additional protection, so you’re safer than described in the paragraph above. However, your card is still linked to your checking account – so you’ll have to wait at least a few days to get your money back.
If you're using a prepaid debit card (as opposed to one that came with your checking account), you might have less protection than described above – be sure to research your card's policies before using it online.
It’s also worth remembering that using a debit card online isn’t the only way to get ripped off. Thieves can steal your card information from brick-and-mortar stores, ATMs, gas pumps, or just about anywhere. They might pull it off with the help of a skimming device or by hacking into a merchant’s payment system remotely.
Given all that, you shouldn’t necessarily fear using debit cards online, but they’re probably not the best option. If you want to minimize the impact of fraud (and the size of the resulting headache), use a credit card and pay it off every month – especially if you’re shopping at a site that you aren’t familiar with.