Debit cards look and feel like credit cards. But they aren’t the same thing. Discover the difference between debit and credit cards in this quick guide, including what happens if you choose to run your debit card as credit when paying for goods or services.
In This Piece
- Can You Use Your Debit Card as a Credit Card?
- What Happens When You Use a Debit Card as Credit?
- Can I Use My Debit Card as Credit With Insufficient Funds?
- Can I Use My Debit Card as a Credit Card for Online Purchases?
- Does a Debit Card Build Credit?
Can You Use Your Debit Card as a Credit Card?
The answer is yes and no. You can choose “credit” rather than “debit” at the register in many cases, but that doesn’t mean your debit card actually acts as a credit card. To better understand the answer, let’s look at the differences between these types of cards.
A credit card lets you pay with a line of credit. You don’t need the money in an account at the time you use the card—you’ll pay it back later.
A debit card, in contrast, is tied to an existing account with existing money. For example, most people have a debit card tied to their checking accounts. When you use the card for debit or credit transactions, the money is still coming out of your checking account, and you should still have the money in your account before you complete the transaction.
Note that some merchants don’t let you use your debit card as a credit card. They may have their payment systems set up so you have to enter a PIN. This is typically so they can save on fees associated with credit transactions.
What Happens When You Use a Debit Card as Credit?
When you use your debit card at the register and select “process as credit,” the transaction processes as if you’d used a credit card. The money still comes out of your account—you don’t get to borrow it and pay it back later—but it doesn’t do so in real time.
When you use your debit card to pay for a debit transaction, you typically enter your PIN number. The transaction is processed and settled immediately, which means the money comes out of your account at that moment. If you pulled up your bank account online right after paying this way, you’d see the transaction.
When you use your debit card as a credit card, you don’t enter your PIN. The approval for the transaction may be based on an authorization, which involves the merchant pinging your bank account for a small amount—say $1—to ensure everything is in order.
The actual transaction doesn’t settle until the merchant settles the purchase, which it may do in a big batch with other purchases at the end of the day or even a few days later. It can take several days for a debit card payment run as a credit card transaction to fully hit your bank account.
Can I Use My Debit Card as Credit with Insufficient Funds?
Since your debit card is tied directly to your bank account, the funds must already be in your account before you make the purchase. You should think of a debit card as a conduit for the cash you already have. You should never use your debit card to buy things when you don’t have the money for them.
Some banks do provide overdraft protection. This means if you miscalculate your balance and try to pay for something that’s more than what you have in the account, the transaction is allowed. Banks usually charge fees for this, however, and it can get expensive.
If you’re new to debit cards, you might want to practice with a prepaid debit card, which you fund with prepaid amounts. Prepaid debit cards can also be great tools for those who don’t want to open a checking account for any reason.
Can I Use My Debit Card as a Credit Card for Online Purchases?
If your debit card has a Mastercard or Visa logo on it, you can use it just like a credit card for online purchases. If you’re shopping online and there’s an option to pay with a credit card, simply select it. Enter the information from your debit card and finalize the payment. Again, you should only do this when you have the money in the account to cover the transaction.
Does a Debit Card Build Credit?
No, a debit card doesn’t build credit. It’s not a line of credit or credit account, so nothing gets reported to the credit bureaus.
However, if you overdraw your account with your debit card and fail to make good on those funds, your bank might eventually close your account and turn you over to collections. That can negatively impact your credit. So it’s still important to use your debit card wisely.
The Bottom Line
Using a debit card to make a credit transaction isn’t that different from using it to make a debit transaction. The money still comes out of your bank account. You don’t, however, have to enter your PIN, so many people choose credit to safeguard the security of their account.
A debit card is a great money management tool. As with all financial tools, it’s important to use it wisely. Only pay with it when you have the funds to do so, and check your account to ensure all payments are actually yours and there aren’t any mistakes or fraud.To keep an eye on your overall financial status, consider signing up for ExtraCredit so you can see your FICO scores and what’s on your credit reports.
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