Some debit cards are now also known as check cards and are distinct from Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) cards. They are similar in that they both take money from your bank account to pay for your purchase. However, an ATM card can only be used to withdraw money or pay for purchases at a limited number of locations. These include your bank, ATM machines and a number of establishments -primarily supermarkets and larger stores- which are now set up to accept these. There is almost always a charge for using an ATM card outside your bank. Some banks now even restrict the number of ATM transactions you can make each month without incurring service charges. A welcome new addition to the proliferation of ATM machines is the ETrade ATM. You can withdraw money from an ETrade machine without incurring a transaction fee.
Check cards are issued in association with VISA or MasterCard. They can be used wherever VISA and MasterCard credit cards are accepted. However, since the amount of your purchase is soon deducted from your account, they are not an unsecured loan as normal credit cards are (for more on debit cards see Credit Cards are Better then Debit Cards). There is a distinction -in name only- between such cards based on the issuer. VISA's card is called a Check Card while MasterCard's is called a MasterMoney Card. There are minor but real advantages to Debit Cards which are worth balancing against their disadvantages:
1) For consumers with poor credit histories who are unable to obtain credit cards, they are an option. However, in such cases, secured credit cards are an even better option. However, the credit limit on a secured credit card is some percentage of a savings account which you would have to open at the issuing bank. If you do not wish to open such a savings account for any reason, you may opt for a debit card instead.
2) Cash advance transactions with regular credit cards involve a relatively large transaction fee. Your debit card allows you to withdraw money from your bank for free in most cases.
3) A Debit card forces you to limit your spending and avoid credit card debt. This prevents you from falling into the typical credit card trap of only making your minimum monthly payments and thus having to pay huge interest on outstanding balances which can put you in a financial hole.
4) There are some protections afforded to consumers who use check cards if your card is stolen. These are not as comprehensive as the laws which protect against credit card fraud. For more on these protections, see Lost or Stolen Credit Cards. In order not to be liable for more than $500.00 if your check card is stolen, you must notify the issuing bank within sixty days of being mailed information noting the fraudulent transaction. An example of such notification is your monthly bank statement.
Converting your ATM card to a check card is fairly routine. Pick up a form from your local bank or call them up and have them mail you a form. The application form is simple, although you will be requested to provide your social security number. If you do not wish to divulge your SSN, you may substitute another identification number such as your drivers license number. If you do this, include a note of explanation with your completed application form. Using a check card involves a small period of float between the time of your transaction and the time when funds are deducted from your account. For this reason, some issuers will do a credit check before approving your card.