Debit cards are similar in some respects to a credit card, except that when you use your debit card the money comes directly out of your checking account. They can be beneficial if you prefer to pay cash but don’t like to carry cash with you. If they are stolen, most debit cards now limit the amount you can be held liable for once you’ve notified the bank (but check with your card issuer to be sure). Debit cards are good if you want the convenience of a credit card without the temptation to spend more than you actually have — especially since debit cards are generally accepted the same places credit cards are. You may also be able to earn points, perks, or cashback by using your debit card if you get one from a bank that offers such a promotion.
But, there are a few drawbacks to debit cards. The biggest one is that if there is a problem, either with the use of the card or with an item you’ve bought with it, chances are that it’s up to you to resolve it. The bank probably won’t go to bat for you on your behalf, although there may be some exceptions. In fact (as I discovered) the bank may actually come after YOU if there is an unauthorized charge on the card. You must also safeguard your PIN, since anyone with the number can use your card. A smaller drawback to debit cards are that if you use them to guarantee a hotel room or to leave a deposit when renting equipment, merchants will sometimes put a hold on a fairly large sum of money, making that money unavailable in your account until the hold is cleared. That’s fine if you have a large balance, but if your account isn’t quite that high or you need the money for something else it could be a problem. Also, you may not be able to use a debit card to secure a rental car.
So, the bottom line is that you have to choose whether a debit card is right for you based on knowing your spending habits, willpower strength, and how important having extra protection might be.