6 Places Never to Use a Debit Card

credit card at gas stationCredit or debit? Although both cards look the same, they offer different protections.

Under federal law, if your credit card is used to make unauthorized charges after it is lost or stolen, you’re liable for only $50 - no matter the amount and with no time restrictions to report the fraud. And many issuers won’t even charge the $50 for valued customers.

But with a debit card, you have just two business days to report an unauthorized loss or money transfer, or you could be liable for up to $500. Wait more than 60 calendar days after your statement is mailed and you could be responsible for all money pilfered from its connected account.

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Although debit cards offer no-interest savings - which may factor for some plastic users - there are six places where you should never use them.

Gas Stations

In addition to ATM machines, gas pumps are a popular target for “skimming,” in which crooks place a portable card-reading device inside the pump. When a motorist inserts a debit card and enters the required personal identification number, the hidden device (which can be purchased on the Internet for less than $100) captures both the data from the card’s magnetic stripe and the PIN. Later, the device is retrieved, and the stolen data is used to create a duplicate card to raid the victim’s bank account.

Why gas stations? With only a handful of manufacturers of gas pumps, one key in the hands of a thief who gets a job at one station can be used to open pumps and install other skimmers elsewhere, especially at night or when unattended. And with older pumps, PINs may not be encrypted. If you must use a debit card (and it has a Visa or MasterCard logo versus being a cash-withdrawal-only card), choose the “credit” screen prompt, instead of “debit,” so you don’t have to enter your PIN. This way, the purchase amount will still be deducted directly from your bank account, but it’s processed through a credit card network, providing greater protection if fraud occurs.

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Online Purchases

Along with providing added security should the retailer fall victim to a data breach - a hacker can’t overdraft your bank account with a credit card - most credit cards (versus some debit cards) offer extra protection perks. If you don’t receive the merchandise, it’s defective or the wrong item, and the vendor won’t issue a refund, it’s easier to dispute charges with a credit card.

Many credit cards also offer extended product warranties (usually for one year beyond what’s offered by the manufacturer), and some provide price protection up to 90 days, issuing you the difference if the identical item is sold for a lower price than you paid. Although certain debit cards offer these protections, the hassle factor can be greater.

Big-Ticket Items

Rewards aside, the above-mentioned credit card perks are especially useful for expensive products, whether purchased in store or online.


Eateries are among the few places where a payment card can leave your sight, and crooked waiters can - and sometimes do – disappear to write down its number for possible identity theft. Even without a PIN, someone can use your card number to make fraudulent purchases online. And restaurants without sit-down service can pose a threat, since some (along with other businesses) keep customer payment information on file but may not safeguard it.

Retail Stores

Several months ago the FBI predicted an increase in cyberattacks using sophisticated malware that specifically targets point of sale (POS) systems such as cash registers and card-swiping devices. It was this “memory-parsing” malicious software (also known as a “RAM scraper”) that was behind the well-publicized hacking of payment card information of some 110 million Target customers over the Christmas season – and responsible for nearly two dozen other attacks in the past year.

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True, credit cards are also vulnerable in such POS attacks. But with more protections, credit card issuers always eat those losses (minus a possible $50 cap) should your plastic be hacked. Depending on when you learn of and report fraudulent use of hacked debit card data, you could be on the hook from unauthorized activity.

When a Deposit Is Required

Risk of identity theft aside, credit cards are a wiser choice for transactions in which the final bill is uncertain - e.g., hotels, rental cars or even tools rented from a home improvement center. Reason: With a debit card, a “hold” can be placed on your account that may be greater than the expected bill, such as for hotel incidentals, including room service, or for a predicted failure to return a rental car without a full tank of gas. If this occurs, you could be denied access to the additional hold amount from your bank account until the final bill is tallied. With a credit card, hold amounts may initially appear as a pending charge until your final bill is paid, so it may not be debited until the final bill is paid. Gas stations also place holds on debit charges, which is another reason to use credit cards.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up-to-date on the latest scams in your area.

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asksid 5pts

Sid here. Thanks for your comments, many of which ask the same question: “Where can I use my debit card?”

Certainly, credit cards are the better choice for those purchases mentioned in my “6 Places” blog. Although credit cards have an overall edge in protection against fraud, debit cards are fine for most everyday purchases – and have their own advantages.

I’ll be doing a story on when, how, and for whom debit cards should be used. Look for it in January on my blog at http://blog.aarp.org/author/skirchheimer/ or http://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/fraud-watch-network/. A new blog is posted every Friday.

Thanks again for taking the time to share your comments!

genelafitte 5pts

Just use your banks money each month with a no annual fee credit card and pay it off every month works fine for me.

jm55954729 5pts

Dear Sid: . .  . I always use a debit card to go thru life but shortly, I will be visiting and need to rent a hotel .  I would like to know if I can use a Debit to rent a room for several days. Also, can I use a Debit to rent a car?

tlcatlett 5pts

These articles offer such little good info. I only use an actual credit card for very specific things and not on a daily basis. I use my debit card for everything because my husband and I conduct our finances on a cash basis. If we don't have the money, we don't spend it. But, I always choose the credit option unless I am going to take a cash withdrawal as well, which I rarely do. The reality is that we are moving to a cashless society and we simply need to do what we can to learn how to use our plastic in reasonable ways. 

lolajul7 5pts

I actually did not finish reading the article but I read several comments. When it says not to use your debit card, what it means is use the card as credit, not debit, makes a difference. I also have a credit/debit card but never ever use it as debit anywhere, period. I dont even know my PIN....!


Have your bank issue you a Mastercard or Visa card with the debit card rider, you use it as a charge card, with no ATM fees and no transaction fees, funded from your checking account.  You then have the protection of Bankcard International.  Hope this helps...

cv6389 5pts

Apparently there is no use for a debit card, then. - Chris V.

yolandamary 5pts

Uhhhhh. So, where should a debit card be used? That would be more useful information. N'est pas?

Meanwhile, this makes me wonder if AARP is planning to become a credit card issuer. If it is, I don't want one.

lh72559689 5pts

This article makes one wonder if the writer isn't connected in some way to credit card companies. I use nothing but a debit card (and money orders) and have no problems at all. 

zephyr9ne 5pts

My question is the same as everyone else. Gas stations, Restaurants, Retail stores, I would call Grocery stores retail, what is left? Brothels? Crack houses? Why didn't the writer of article just say he did not like debit cards ?

kceesmith 5pts

This article is ridiculous!  What is left?  My bank has never charged me for fraudulent charges on my account.  The card has a Visa logo and can be treated like a credit card.  The debit cards that might be more at risk have no such logos on them. 

womanoftheyr 5pts

This an absurd article since you have not left anyplace to use a debit card. I use mine everywhere except hotels and car rentals and haven't had a problem. If you keep a close eye on your account I think you're safe.

lzawtocki 5pts

Where CAN you use a debit card safely?

JeanPell61 5pts

I don't have a credit card as I choose to live debt-free and have never had a problem using my debit card online or at any store/gas station. However, I am considering getting a prepaid credit card that my Credit Union is now offering. BTW....I opted out of overdraft protection on my debit card so my savings account can't be empted. 

Davisbf 5pts

Where else can I safely use my debit card? Those 6 places...ATM, gas station, restaurant,online,  retail store, big-ticket items (wouldn't that also be either retain or online?)...there's no other place left to use it!

kh1987 5pts

If I can't use it in those places I won't be using it at all.  I know I need to get cash and just use cash.  The card is more convenient though. I check my account every day. 

jc22502884 5pts

I use my debit card only at the store when I shop ATM to get cash.

kr2960 5pts

I use my "debit" card to get cash from an ATM machine--those at my local supermarket and credit union don't charge fees for this use. I've never used the "debit" card any other way. I started using a credit card somewhat late in life and I pay off the debt every month. I can't spend too much this way, and I'm used to it. It works for me.

rp4527 5pts

Some  things you can do to at least prevent the number of your card "stolen " by  a visual theft is to record the number in your wallet, then with a paper punch, punch out every other number on the card, take care not to damage the reverse area where the magnetic strip or the security 3 digit number is. Then tape over both side of holes to reenforce the card. There are very few vendors anywhere that use an embossing machine for carbon tickets so the numbers are redundant as long as you can produce the number from the record in your wallet.I have used such a card for over 6 moths and have had no problems or even been asked why the card is so, usually the card never leaves my hand anyways except in restaurants. Also, do not purchase fuel with your debit card at a station that automatically charges instead of debits, it might be 2 - 3 days or more before the actual amount debited is posted! Another problem is there are pocket sized scanners capable of scanning your cards while in your wallet or purse. Consider an aluminum clam-shell case to hold your cards in purse or a folded aluminum "sleeve" for your your wallet.

Do a little research, there has been a "scare" about some big box stores where the cashiers GIVE "cash back" to the "CUSTOMER NEXT IN LINE!", many stores have replaced their card readers to be sure the customer decides cash back, the cashier can not enter "cash back" from her register. Like I say do a little research.

unclescotty 5pts

OBOY!! Another recycled article. I seem to recall seeing this exact same article last summer. Does AARP ever come up with any NEW stuff??

veronica19552012 5pts

It is very expensive to be poor. With no doubt bad credit, you pay more for everything. Articles like this are most likely depressing to those with unfortunate financial and credit histories. Bad credit is near impossible to fix, especially on a limited income. I have never had a problem using my debit card everywhere mentioned, guess I have been lucky. Going forward, my bank would offered me a secured credit card if I give them $300 to keep. Sure, I have that lying around to give them for nothing. Not!

Butterscotch13 5pts

Well, I have been duped again! Another non-article! Instead of a list of six plus a short explanation, the article is full of useless verbage and then launches into 10 ways to protect yourself.....  What a waste of time when it could have been really helpful. This was as dumb as the email about all the freebies you can get from the airlines!!!! Sheesh!!!

bdecoeur1313 5pts

I'm the same as Ladygodiva, I don't have a credit card so I use my debit card for everything.  I do make purchases online, but I make sure the site is a secured one.

Ladygordiva 5pts

I use mines everywhere also. I never had any problems in using my cards. I check my account everyday in order to make sure no one have charged me for something that I didn't approve.

lindsncal 5pts

That just about covers all the places people use them.

krisimon 5pts

This article is not totally accurate.  Banks are now protecting debit cards the same way as credit cards.  Check with your particular bank as they vary.

ticoman 5pts

Would have been more useful if you stated where it is OK to use it, given the universality of the places you advise NOT to use debit cards. Or follow rabjones suggestion: "Just Say No" to debit cards.

rabjones 5pts

Let's see - don't use your debit card at gas station, on line, at restaurants, at stores, for large purchases, for hotels . . . wouldn't it have been simpler just to advise never to use a debit card?

khelliwell 5pts

I do not use my debit card at restaurants or online, but I do use them in retail stores (with a preference for stores that offer Apple Pay) and at gas stations. My strategy for managing risk with the debit card is to have a separate "checking" account that is the only one tied to the debit card, and only keep a small portion of my funds in it at any time. The account has no overdraft protection, so if the worst happens, I'm only out (temporarily) the amount in the account. My main checking account is isolated and not accessible from the debit card.

This does require managing two checking accounts and making sure that you keep sufficient funds in the "debit" account for planned purchases, but it greatly reduces the risk that my entire checking account can be drained by an ill-doer. 

g1inskyms 5pts

I use a credit card for most everything, and just pay it off every month.  I have no short term debt, only mortgage.  At the end of the year, I can see all my expenses in one spot, and sort them easily.  With a CC, you get 30-45 days of free float, using the credit company's money.  And I get airline miles (currently have over 300,000 miles accrued), so can fly for nothing pretty much whenever I need to.  Only place I use a debit is at the local grocery gas station, where the debit card gets a 10 cent discount.

DonViejo 5pts

So, in other words; never, ever, use your debit card!

DrLeoPIckett 5pts

Really good information which should be available to all

lmasterson7 5pts

Under federal law, if your credit card is used to make unauthorized charges after it is lost or stolen, you’re liable for only $50 - no matter the amount and with no time restrictions to report the fraud. And many issuers won’t even charge the $50 for valued customers. "THERE IS A TIME RESTRICTION". It is so many days after you received your statement (like 60 days) so don't be fooled....

pmmarion 5pts

I use my debit cards for one thing... Cash at an ATM where it doesn't cost anything... lol

pingpaul 5pts

If you used a credit card, Randall's will charge you an extra 10 cents per gallon. Only cash and debit get the advertised price in Cedar Park (Austin) Texas.

bpgagirl22 5pts

@tlcatlett  Yep, me too!  Had a bankruptcy in '05 and have been debit/cash basis ever since. If it ain't in the acct. it don't get bought. AND it was actually the way I was raised. Very thriftily and frugally.  Just got out of hand with kids and a house. LOL.  Now kids are grown and on their own and I've taken the bull by the horns and clamped down on spending.  Dollar stores, coupons and IF I find something I really want or need, it's QVC flex pays or HSN flex pays.  Works for me! Great for Chmas gifts as well!


@cv6389 USE DEBIT CARDS IN YOUR BANK FOR CASH TRANSACTIONS....USEFUL WHEN MAKING DEPOSITS AFTER HOURS AT YOUR BANK ALSO. Have your bank issue you a Master Care or visa card with the debit card rider...you use it as a charge card, with no transaction fees,  funded from your checking account.  You then have the protection of Bankcard International .  Hope this helps.


@yolandamary yes, they have a credit card for several years now  I use it for generous points to secure hotel stays among other stuff!


@lh72559689 not incorrect info, just not enough info, see my posting earlier and AARP does issue a credit card that gives you generous points for your transactions...

tlcatlett 5pts

@womanoftheyr Agreed! I use mine even at hotels and have never really had a problem. We do our banking at a small credit union and they are very vigilant. We have had our number compromised a couple of times but they caught it immediately and notified us right away. We didn't lose a single dollar. 

rp4527 5pts

@unclescotty  Some articles bear repeating as well as helping us that have "C.R.S., (Can't Remember Sh*t) to remember these things

kceesmith 5pts

@krisimon  Thank you for a great reminder!  My bank is protecting our debit card like a credit card.

lindsncal 5pts

@krisimon - They've been protected in Europe forever. They use a chip that can't  be copied. Our corporate banks here need the money it would cost to change the system so they can give their CEOs a bigger bonus.

Idawmn 5pts

@DonViejo  I use mine in all those places mentioned above and never a problem.  Not to say something can't happen at any point but so far in over 20 years, so far, so good.  I will continue to do so and just take the chance.

mf2502257 5pts

@Idawmn @DonViejo 

I'm with you!  Debit cards are time-saving tools and I'm not giving mine up.  If I carry cash I can be robbed, if I pay by check my account data can be stolen.

Silly article, in my opinion.