Debit cards

Compare debit cards that come with bank accounts so you can use your own money wherever you want without getting into debt.

By   |   Verified by David Boyd   |   Updated 31st August 2020

Comparing debit cards

Overview

A debit card looks like a credit card, and can be used for payments in much the same way as a credit card, but there's one major difference – you are paying with your own money, not the bank's money. Instead of racking up debt, which has to be paid off at the end of the month in order to avoid interest charges, you are simply using the card to pay with funds in your everyday bank transaction account or savings account.

The card is linked to your bank account, and you'll still get a monthly statement showing where your money went, just as you do with a credit card. But your Visa debit card or Mastercard debit card transactions will be listed along with all your other bank account transactions for the period.

Reduced risk of overspending

Although you can still overspend using a debit card, eating into your hard-earned savings or succumbing to impulse buying as soon as your salary hits your bank account, you're less likely to do so with a debit card than you are with a credit card. Firstly, if there are insufficient funds in your bank account your debit card payment is going to be rejected, and secondly, you're probably going to think a bit harder about whether you really need something when you're spending your own money.

Avoids long-term debt...

For some cardholders, one of the major drawbacks of using a credit card is the risk of getting into long-term debt. This can happen slowly at first, when your spending in a particular month exceeds your ability to repay your credit card balance in its entirety. Interest charges – at a high percentage rate – are added to the remaining balance, and in the following month the normal interest-free days on purchases are forfeited. New interest-bearing purchases make it even more difficult to repay the spiralling balance in full, and the stage is set for the cycle of long-term debt.

Compare this with paying with a debit card. You can only spend using money you already have. Although there are many ways you can still get into debt, using a debit card isn't one of them (unless it's linked to an overdraft facility).

... but you miss out on interest-free credit and rewards

Many credit card users, however, extract a great many advantages from their credit card without ever paying a cent in interest. They use the card issuer's money to make interest-free payments for up 44 or 55 days (depending on the card's terms and conditions), and then repay their balance in full every month. But you don't get to use someone else's money interest free with a debit card. You are using your own money, and forfeiting any interest you might have received on that money if you had left it in your bank account and used a credit card instead.

And Australian debit cards, with very few exceptions, do not come with the wide range of benefits attached to many credit cards. These credit card benefits come in the form of rewards or frequent flyer points, and complimentary perks like travel insurance. Although a small number of debit card issuers offer limited discounts and privileges for travel, dining, shopping and entertainment, or a capped cashback that may cover the monthly account keeping fees, or free wine with restaurant meals, or even frequent flyer points and travel insurance, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Alternatives to debit cards

What are your options if you don't want to use a debit card for payment?

You can also pay with:

  • Cash. You need to withdraw cash from a bank account before you can use it. Carrying it is a security risk, and you end up with a pocketful of coins as change.
  • Credit card. Can be a temptation to overspend and end up in debt, but a source of rewards and benefits if used wisely.
  • Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL). The leading players are Afterpay and Zip, with all the temptations of a credit card, and very high fees if you are late with repayments.
  • Prepaid card. Similar in may ways to a debit card (because you're using your own money, not the bank's), but the card is not linked to a bank account. Instead, a fixed amount of cash is preloaded onto the card. In some cases the card can be reloaded with more cash once the first amount is spent.
  • PayPal. A useful alternative for online shopping, but you need to put money into your PayPal account first.
  • Card linked to overdraft account. This is effectively a mix of a debit card and a credit card. If your bank grants you an overdraft, they may issue you with a card you can use to access the funds, by withdrawing cash or making purchases. Although it's called a debit card, you're not using your own money, and you will pay interest on the balance. (The use of the term 'debit card' in this guide refers only to cards linked to a non-overdraft account.)

Learn about debit cards

Find out how debit cards work, their benefits, and what to consider when comparing.

  • Pros & cons

  • Tips

  • FAQs

  • Glossary

  • Guides

A good precursor to a credit card

Not sure if you can handle a credit card? Or maybe you're still in your teens and want to try out the convenience of paying with plastic. A debit card can be a good starting point, before you commit to a credit card.

Easy expense tracking and budgeting

When you have a debit card, your bank does the work of tracking your spending for you. Paying in cash can leave you wondering where your money went at the end of the month, but your bank statement will help you track your expenses and set a budget if you try to pay for everything with your debit card.

Getting into debt is easier to avoid

When you use a debit card rather than a credit card, you won't be exposed to the temptation of spending money that you don't actually have. You are more likely to avoid getting into debt.

Handy for online shopping

Ever tried paying for online shopping using cash? No, it's not possible. But if you're not happy using a credit card, or BNPL, or PayPal, you can still shop online with a debit card (and pay lower surcharges than you would with a credit card).

It won't improve your credit score

The best way to improve your credit score (so that you're more likely to be approved for a home loan or personal loan) is to use credit responsibly, and the easiest way to do that is to have a credit card and repay your balance diligently. Unfortunately, using a debit card to access your own money won't affect your credit score one way or the other.

You can get your free credit score with Finty.

May not be acceptable as a security deposit

Some hotels, restaurants and car hire companies won't accept a debit card as a security deposit, insisting instead on a credit card.

Not much in the way of rewards

While there are some debit card programs offering shopping discounts, travel privileges, free wine, and even (in rare cases) frequent flyer points and travel insurance, the typical debit card is essentially just a convenient and secure way of paying with your own money. If you're chasing rewards points and complimentary benefits, choose a credit card if you can be confident of repaying your purchases balance in full every month.

You don't need to be 18

While most banks won't let you open a credit card account if you're under 18 (and you still need to be at least 16 to be a supplementary cardholder on your parent's account), many banks allow you to have your own debit card from the age of 14, occasionally even younger.

All debit cards are not created equal

Although they may all look pretty much the same on the surface, each credit card has its own features and fee structure, possibly some limitations and perhaps a few perks. So make sure you do your research by comparing features and reading the small print before you make a decision about which one to choose.

Beware of holds

Hotels and car hire companies will sometimes ask for your card so that they can put a hold for a specified amount on your account, pending final settlement of your bill. This could deny you access to your cash when you need it for other payments or withdrawals. If you do have credit card as well, use the credit card for holds of this type. You can still choose to pay your final bill with your debit card.

Check the fees

While many debit cards are free to own and use, this does not apply to every one of them. Sometimes the card itself is free, but the linked bank account has a monthly charge. And some bank accounts come with a limited number of transactions each month before an additional transaction fee is charged, and debit card transactions will be included in the count. Additionally, many cards will charge additional fees for foreign transactions (including online purchases) while others don't. So check the fees and charges before you commit.

Keep an eye on your spending

While having a debit card rather than a credit card will help you to stay out of debt, it won't stop you from overspending. You need to have some awareness of how much you are spending each day, week, or month, to make sure you will not run out of cash before your next wage or salary arrives (and preferably so that you will have something left over to add to your savings). Instead of waiting for a monthly bank statement to arrive, check your spending regularly using online banking or your bank's app.

Keep your card safe and your PIN separate

Keep your debit car in a safe place. You don't want it to fall into the wrong hands. Memorise your PIN rather than keeping a written note (but if that's too difficult, don't store your PIN with your card). Notify your bank at once if your card is lost or stolen – you may be able to put a temporary hold on your card online or in your bank's app. And check your bank statement regularly for possible fraudulent transactions, because some could slip through your bank's fraud monitoring net.

Use a debit card to help you budget

A debit card can be a very useful way to keep track of your money and set a budget, because your monthly bank account statement, or your online bank account transaction history, will tell you where your money went and what kind of things you are paying for. It can provide a good entry point into the world of EFTPOS and online payments for young people in particular, and could be a permanent solution for anyone who would rather not be exposed to the temptation of a credit card.

Use free ATMs for cash withdrawals

When withdrawing cash from an ATM, you don't want to pay a fee for using the ATM if you can avoid it. So use your own bank's ATM, or an ATM network your bank has a fee-free arrangement with. All ATMs belonging to the Big Four banks (ANZ, CommBank, NAB and Westpac) are free for all users.

Are debit card payments secure?

Yes. They are protected by a chip and PIN, and by your bank/Visa/Mastercard security and fraud monitoring procedures. You should keep your card and PIN in a (separate) safe place. Notify your bank immediately if your card is lost or stolen or if you see any suspicious transactions in your account.

Can I have more than one debit card linked to my bank account?

Yes, if you have a joint bank account with someone else (e.g. your partner). You can both have a debit card linked to the same account.

Can I make contactless payments under $100?

Yes. Your card will come with either PayPass or payWave for contactless purchases under $100 (requiring a PIN for amounts above $100) and will be eligible for mobile device payments (i.e. via Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay) if offered by your bank.

Can I use a debit card overseas?

Yes. Your debit card will be a Visa or Mastercard, and can be used at overseas ATMs and EFTPOS terminals. Just watch out for overseas transaction fees, which many debit cards charge, and fees for using overseas ATMs.

Can I use a debit card to pay online or over the phone?

Yes. It works in just the same way as a credit card for this type of payment, and the good news is that the surcharge added by some merchants (e.g. government departments) is usually lower for a debit card than it is for a credit card.

Can I use a debit card to withdraw cash at an ATM?

Yes. You can use your debit card to withdraw cash from your linked bank account. Unlike the situation with a credit card, you won't be paying a cash advance fee or immediate interest charges. There will be no fee for using any of the Big Four banks' ATMs or your own bank's ATM.

Do debit cards expire?

Yes, there will be an expiry date shown on your card, but your bank should send you a new card before your current card expires.

Do debit cards have a PIN?

Yes, they have a PIN and all the same security features as a credit card.

Do I need to be over 18 to have a debit card?

No. Some banks allow you to have a debit card if you are 14 (or even younger in some cases), while other banks make you wait until you are 16.

Is there a limit to how much cash I can withdraw per day from an ATM?

Most banks set a daily ATM withdrawal limit (e.g. $1,000) for security purposes, but you can always withdraw more over the counter in a branch if you need to. You could also request the bank to increase your ATM withdrawal limit.

Some banks also set limits on daily amounts of purchases in Australia, or monthly amounts of overseas purchases.

Is there an annual fee payable for a debit card?

Some banks may charge a low monthly fee, rather than an annual fee, for using a debit card. But it's more likely that the debit card will be a free facility attached to the bank account to which your card is linked. The linked bank account may have a monthly fee.

BNPL (Buy Now Pay Later)

BNPL companies (e.g. Afterpay and Zip) allow shoppers to receive their purchases immediately and pay for them in instalments, through an arrangement the BNPL company makes with the retailer. No interest is charged, but high fees are levied for late repayments.

Chip

This is a microchip embedded in a credit card or debit card. It hold encrypted information to increase security when making transactions.

Contactless payment

Also known as Tap & Go, this is the act of making a secure credit or debit card payment, or payment using a smartphone or other mobile device, by means of Near Field Communication (NFC) or Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). The card or other device is tapped on or held near a point-of-sale terminal which has contactless payment technology installed. Most cards, and also mobile devices using Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay, can be used for contactless purchases under $100 without the cardholder needing to enter a PIN.

PayPal

An online financial service that facilitates online payments using a secure internet account.

PIN

Personal Identification Number, a password entered by a cardholder at a point-of-sale terminal or ATM in order to verify a transaction.