Plastic debit cards have some of the practical payment advantages of credit cards (and are used in a similar way to pay for goods or services in person, by phone, or online), but instead of using borrowed money, they take money straight away out of your bank account. So you should only use them if you have enough money in your account at the relevant time (otherwise you will be overdrawn). You can check your balance at a cash machine, or through online or telephone banking so don’t be caught out.
Debit cards allow you to withdraw cash from most cash machines without having to pay a charge, and to get ‘cashback’ from some shops. You will be protected against fraud (if someone fraudulently used your card), but you do not receive the same protection against faulty purchases as you do with a credit card.
You will be given a 4-digit “PIN” number with your debit card; you will normally need to enter this number when you are paying for things in person (follow the instructions on the card reader), or when you are taking cash out of a cash machine. You should memorise your PIN number, rather than write it down, and should not let anyone see you enter your PIN number. This is to prevent other people being able to access your account.
To use your debit card to pay for things online, you will need to enter the long 16-digit number on the front of your card, the expiry date on your card, and the “security code” or “CSV” – the last three digits on the reverse of your card.
Some debit cards offer “contactless” payments. This means you can use them to pay for things, below a certain value, without entering a PIN number; you simply touch your card against the contactless reader. This page explains how it works. Using a contactless card is a good way to pay for travel in London if you’re an occasional visitor – you get the same lower fares as on an Oyster card, and can go through ticket barriers just as quickly.
Have a look at our other banking and money pages: