6 Places Never to Use a Debit Card

credit card at gas stationEn españolCredit 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.

>> Discussion: What’s your secret to successful budgeting?

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.

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.

Also of Interest


See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.

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tothelinks 5pts

The only place where I use a debit card is at a big-box grocery store. Before the transaction is completed, I'll request anywhere from $50-$100 in cash back. Limits vary between stores. I usually shop at 2-3 stores depending on the sale items for that week, and each time I'll get cash back even if I don't need it. I just keep it at home for ready cash.  Saves a visit to an ATM, which I haven't used for at least 7 years. I too am leery of the skimmer possibility. I've read a couple of news reports in the past where a bank's own on-site ATM had a skimmer installed. 

Using a debit card anywhere else is like throwing away free money when a cash back credit card is a better choice. Debit cards also don't have fraud protection or extended warranty coverage. The key is to pay the CC bill in full every month.

Debit cards can also get one in trouble if each transaction isn't logged somewhere into a spreadsheet or money management software like Quicken. Checking the bank account frequently is also a good safeguard as any debit purchase will appear as pending until it clears.

Forgetting debit card transactions and then writing checks can definitely open the possibility of overdrafts.

But if using these cards gives anyone piece of mind, go for it.

RayRein 5pts

One of the consistently least-expensive gas stations in California, Arco, ONLY accepts debit cards and cash. The transactions occur at outdoor kiosks separate from the gas pumps. Are they safe?

uptownmama 5pts

What's left?  What has the world come to?

dross0119 5pts

The list made sense with gas stations (unmonitored device), online (cyber theft), restaurants (out of hand) and other purchase type exclusions.  Once you add retail, the question becomes, where WOULD I use one.

mizzbee12 5pts

All those places are exactly the places I use my D card! It's either that or carry cash on me!

bobchep 5pts

Really don't like this article. After reading all of the places I shouldn't use a debit card, where the heck can I use one? An ATM? Wow!

susiedarling15 5pts

Absolutely right.  Especially since most debit cards are connected to their checking/savings accounts.  Mine was stolen a couple of months ago and I immediately cancelled it because of my checking account which had a good amount of money in it at that time.

paulalovescats 5pts

It's not an ATM machine, any more than you send your taxes to the IRS Service.

WINA5286 5pts

Wondering if you know anything about : Mike Larson, The Day America will Die, January 28,2015, " Bloody Wednesday" , America's Day Of Reckoning ? I have been getting emails from this person a lot. Is this a scam ? Please let me know ! It's making me feel like I should fear the worst on that day.

bg7640 5pts

I have a habit of saving all of my shopping receipts. I have a regular ol' plastic shopping bag hanging on a hook in my kitchen with the month and year written on it and just as soon as I come back from shopping, ALL of my receipts go in that bag and I save them for a minimum of 90 days. I have a box full of receipt bags in my closet here.

Then I go to my computer and check to make sure that only the money that I authorize for each purchase or transaction was taken from my account and nothing more. That way I will know immediately if anything is taken from my account by mistake or otherwise. 

 Always keep EVERY receipt from EVERY transaction you ever make. That alone is your spending record and evidence if ever needed. 

 I had the receipts from the ATM that ripped me off and because of that evidence my card company put the money immediately back into my account before they even filed against the offending company. It was my Christmas money so I was very upset. The ATM didn't even have money in it so it couldn't pay me but it still took it from my account. $202.95.

bg7640 5pts

It's okay to use your debit card in any one of those 6 places if you know what you're doing and know what to look out for. You would really have to be pretty slow witted not too realized some of those dangers. Swiping your card at a gas station is safe unless you see something unusual protruding from the swiping slot. They can't put the device it inside the pump without taking it apart & damaging the original slot. This gas pump rip-off has only been known to happen a very few times but since they made such a big deal about it on every media source available people believed it was a daily event. The device I heard about here in OK actually fell off of the machine while the person was swiping it and they thought they broke the gas pump until they found out it was just taped on there buy some fiend. 

Someone is really paranoid if they avoid those 6 places as a way of life. I've used my cards everywhere for many years without ANY problems. You just have to pay attention to what's going on around you. I did get ripped off by an ATM once but was reimbursed shortly afterwards by my card company.

 Just keep your eyes open and always take someone with you if you are using an ATM in a bad area. If you notice someone just hanging out within a half a block of you just don't stop. There are always indoor ATMs to fall back on.

 You can't be afraid to live or you're not living. "Fear is the little mind killer". That's what Paul Atreides mother taught him and he became a Messiah with a Sandworm for a son. LoL! (DUNE for those who's heads I went over).

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.

interaccess 5pts

@uptownmama - You are right! What else is left except the bank's own in-house ATMs. Unfortunately, even bank ATMs have been found with card code skimmers installed.

jm43985443 5pts

@bg7640  good for you.  words to live by. never could get around to naming one of our sons "Duncan Idaho" tho...

NSL15 5pts

@bg7640 you really don't know what you're talking about. To start, at the gas station, there are many, repeat many documented cases where a gas station employee was the criminal or part of a criminal group. With easy access to the inside of the pump, it is a simple task to put a scanner next to the credit/debit card slot.

ATM machines are just as easy to rig as gas pumps, but access is more restricted generally. To be safer, I only use ATM machine at banks if I need cash, and I only take cash from an account at my bank that I use for that purpose and keep very little money in it. When I need cash, I transfer funds to it via my bank app on my smartphone.

Restaurants are probably the worst place of all to use a debit card, unless they are using a portable terminal they bring to your table as in most restaurants in the US, at this time, the card not only leaves your possession, but it leaves your sight too. In Europe most restaurants these days use portable terminals. You put your debit card in the slot and while you hold the machine (very light weight and easy to hold) you type in your pass-code which you can easily do without the server seeing the numbers you use. That's as safe as anywhere to use the debit card, but otherwise, I'd never consider using a debit card in a restaurant, if I have to had it over to the server.

As to fear of living, yes no one should live being afraid, but I don't see any suggestions by the author about being afraid. I see these suggestions as commonsense and being prudent. We don't have to throw commonsense out the window to live well. In fact, I submit that would be a ridiculous thing to do as would listening to your foolish advice to ignore reality.

NSL15 5pts

@tlcatlett With the significantly poorer protection a debit card has, compared to a credit card, for most people general use of a debit card is a very poor choice.

Debit cards are essential for being able to make easy transactions at the bank when it's busy or closed, if their online services for deposits and transfers won't suffice, or for the times you need some cash. (Credit cards are a poor choice to use at ATMs for withdrawing cash as they only offer cash as an advance and start charging interest on it the moment you make the withdrawal.) Debit cards are good for people who can't seem to only spend what they can afford, as debit cards, unlike credit cards don't let you spend what you don't already have.

Other than that, debit cards offer no advantages whatsoever over credit cards, and there use has much less protection than credit cards from getting ripped off.

At gas stations and restaurants, interestingly enough, cash is a safer bet than debit cards.

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...

NSL15 5pts

@kceesmith But many banks do follow the law about fraudulent charges on debit cards and the advice in the article makes perfect sense.

Moreover, there is another major reason debit cards stink. Debit card authorizations can tie up your money. Gas stations, hotels and other merchants are permitted to put a three-day hold on more money than you will be spending on a particular transaction to protect themselves when you use a debit card. You can't use that money until the hold ends.

That temporary hold can cause other payments you make to bounce even though you really have enough money in your account. If you do use a debit card, make sure you know how much the merchant is holding.

My neighbor, who has now given up the use of debit cards, in favor or credit cards for purchasing regularly had three day holds of $75 at gas stations where he never purchased more than $50 of gas, and had three day holds at restaurants often for 50% more than the amount he actually spent, even with the tip.

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