In appearance, check and debit cards look similar to traditional credit cards. Some debit cards have a Visa or MasterCard logo, but look closely and you find that debit cards have the word “debit” located on the face of the card. Debit and check cards function with the use of a personal identification number, or PIN, or a signature. Although, debit and check cards function like credit cards, the protections, advantages and disadvantages are quite different.
According to Visa, there is no difference between a check and debit card. Both cards are tied to an active checking account of which funds are withdrawn at the time of purchase. Debit and check cards are issued through your financial institution if you qualify for a checking account. Some financial institutions offer incentives and rewards for using your debit card.
Fraudulently used Visa and MasterCard debit cards have a zero-liability clause, but it is offered as a courtesy not a law. PIN-authorized debit cards processed through non-Visa and MasterCard networks may or may not have a zero-liability policy. In this case, customer liability is determined by the issuing financial institution. Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, debit card users' liability is limited to $50 of a fraudulent transaction if reported within two business days. If the user waits more than two business days but less than 60 days, she could lose up to $500. This means the user must pay for any transaction of $500 or less if fraudulent activity is reported more than two days after occurrence.
Visa and MasterCard debit cards are accepted anywhere with the Visa and MasterCard logo. You stay within your budget since you cannot spend more than what is in your bank account. A debit or check card functions as an electronic check. There is no need to finance your purchases with a check or debit card, as the card is tied to an open bank account. Debit cards carry no fee for withdrawing cash from your account.
The downside to using a debit card is the immediate loss of funds. Once funds are fraudulently withdrawn from the account, the user must take quick action to recoup the funds. In addition, anyone that knows your PIN can use your debit card, which makes it difficult to dispute charges. Your funds are limited on per-day basis. Some credit unions have separate amounts when using the card as check card or “credit” card.