Can You Use a Debit Card for Online Purchases?

by Cynthia Gomez ; Updated July 27, 2017
Use your debit card sparingly to make online purchases.

You can purchase anything from books to antiques to cars online. You can pay online with checks, credit cards or services like PayPal -- or you can use a debit card. A debit card is used in the same way as a credit card, but the purchase price comes directly out of your bank account instead of being billed to you at a later date. Before pulling out your debit card for your next online purchase. however, be sure you understand the pros and cons of this method of payment.

How It Works

Paying with a debit card online is easy. You simply enter the name on the card, the account number and the expiration date Turn over the card and locate the three-digit security code on the signature strip and enter that. Once you submit the payment, the money is immediately deducted from your bank account.

Pros

Paying with a debit card has advantages over paying with a credit card. When making purchases with credit cards, it’s easy to get carried away and overspend — after all, you don’t have to pay it back right away. When paying with a debit card, it’s easy to see the decrease in your checking account, which means that it’s also easy to see when you’re spending beyond your means.

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Cons

Federal law says that you’re not liable for unauthorized credit card purchases exceeding $50. This law does not apply to debit card purchases, however. That means that if someone gets a hold of your debit card and makes unauthorized online purchases with it, you may be held liable for those purchases, depending on your bank’s individual policies. Also, if there’s a problem with the purchase, you can’t withhold payment like you can with a credit card because the money has already left your bank account. Plus, once you enter your debit card number into a website, there’s no telling who might be able to see those numbers and use them maliciously.

Alternatives

If you’re dead set against using credit cards to make purchases online, consider putting some money into a service like PayPal. You can use it at most major online retailers, and it works a lot like a debit card — that is, you’re spending your own money, but without giving retailers a direct link to your bank account. Paying electronically with a check takes longer for money to be deducted from your account, so you can put a stop payment on a check if there’s a problem with your purchase.

About the Author

Cynthia Gomez has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. She is currently an editor at a major publishing company, where she works on various trade journals. Gomez also spent many years working as a newspaper reporter. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northeastern University.

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