21 Facts About Debit Cards You May Not Know

By Jacqueline DeMarco · March 08, 2023 · 8 minute read

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21 Facts About Debit Cards You May Not Know

You may have a debit card in your wallet and even swipe it multiple times a day. But did you ever take a moment to think about what an impressive invention that little rectangle of plastic actually is?

Debit cards offer an extremely convenient payment method (you may not even need to swipe it in this tap-and-go era) and are a relatively recent addition to banking services.

To learn more about these handy payment cards, keep reading for 21 debit card facts.

21 Interesting Debit Card Facts

Want to learn some interesting facts about debit cards? These are debit card facts that may surprise you.

1. Over 80% of Americans Have a Debit Card

Recent surveys reveal that over 83% of Americans have a debit card. That’s a lot of plastic! Many people have multiple debit cards. One report noted that there were over 6 billion debit cards in the U.S.

2. Most Debit Cards Have a Familiar Logo

Many debit cards feature the Mastercard or Visa logo, even if your bank sends you the card. This means those two familiar card issuers’ networks can help support the transaction.

Over 73% of Americans have a debit card from Visa; almost 60% have one from Mastercard. (Yes, those numbers add up to more than 100%, indicating that many people have multiple cards.)

3. Debit Cards Followed Store Credit

Who came up with the ingenious idea for a debit card? Store cards likely sparked the idea. Before debit and credit cards launched, if someone didn’t want to make payments in cash (or couldn’t afford to), they often had the option to use store credit. U.S. banks actually got the idea for debit cards from the store credit system in the 1940s.

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4. Magnetic Stripes Debuted in 1967

Magnetic stripes quickly became the preferred method for making plastic cards machine-readable in 1967. In early 1971, the American Bankers Association (ABA) endorsed the magnetic stripe — also known as the magstripe — to make plastic debit cards readable on a machine. This helped usher in a new era of convenience, although debit cards were originally better suited for withdrawing cash from an ATM than shopping.

5. Magnetic Stripes Are on the Decline

Nowadays, magnetic stripes are becoming less popular as new technologies evolve. By 2033, Mastercard doesn’t plan to use magnetic stripes on their debit or credit cards at all anymore.

6. Kids Can Get Debit Cards

While 18 is usually the minimum age to open a bank account, some kids’ accounts come with debit cards. Chase offers a First Banking account with a debit card for those ages six to 17, and Greenlight and GoHenry also offer debit cards for young customers.

7. Metal Debit Cards Exist

While many of us are accustomed to plastic debit cards, some issuers make them out of metal. For instance, N26, an online bank overseas, offers premium banking clients a card made of 18 grams of stainless steel, in three different metallic shades.

8. Some Debit Cards Are Going Green

Starting in 2023, Bank of America is beginning to use recycled plastic for all of its debit and credit cards. This move is aimed to help reduce the amount of single-use plastics by 235 tons. It’s a good example of green banking at work.

9. Most People Have Daily Debit-Card Spending Limits

There may be exceptions to the rule, but most debit cards come with limits about how much you can swipe per day. These limits are typically between $400 and $25,000 per day. Check your agreement with your bank to find your financial ceiling.

Recommended: Guide to Paying Credit Cards With a Debit Card

10. The Public Resisted Debit Cards Initially

At first, people said a big “thanks, but no thanks” to debit cards. In 1972, a report commissioned by the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta found that the majority of the public didn’t support any kind of electronic payments system. Times have certainly changed.

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11. You Can Customize the Photo on Your Debit Card

Do you like expressing yourself? Some financial institutions will let you put the photo of your choice on your debit card. For instance, Bank of America shows an example of putting an image of a furbaby on their debit card.

12. A West Coast Bank Released the First Debit Card

Debit cards made their debut in 1978, thanks to the First National Bank of Seattle. However, some say an early forerunner was introduced in the 1960s by the Bank of Delaware and should get credit as the true pioneer. Either way, it shows debit cards have been around for a while.

13. Debit Cards May Carry Fees

While you won’t rack up debt and charges the way you could with a credit card, not all debit card transactions are free. For instance, if you use your debit card to get cash at an out-of-network ATM, you might get hit with a charge. Or if you overdraw your account, you might get a fee similar to those incurred when you bounce a check. Check your account agreement or ask a bank rep for details.

14. UK Banned All Debit Card Surcharges

Originally, debit cards in the UK came with fees, such as processing charges. However, in 2018, the UK government banned any surcharges on debit cards which makes it possible to use them for a transaction of any size, even super small ones, without fees being added.

15. Chip Technology Leads to Contactless Payments

During the pandemic, contactless payments surged in popularity. This was made possible by chip technology. With chip technology, consumers can simply hold their debit card over a payment terminal to make a payment. There’s less risk of passing germs around via touch.

16. Chip Technology Doesn’t Require a PIN

Not only does chip technology make it possible to skip entering a debit card physically into the payment terminal, the use of a PIN may not be required.

17. You Can Be Liable for Charges on a Lost Debit Card

There’s a downside to the convenience of debit cards. If yours is lost or stolen, you’ll be liable for:

•   $0 if reported immediately and before any unauthorized charges are made

•   Up to $50 if you notify the bank within two days

•   Up to $500 if you notify the bank within 60 days after your statement was issued showing unauthorized usage

•   Unlimited if you don’t notify the bank within 60 days of the statement showing unauthorized usage being issued.

18. Some Debit Cards Can Be Used Worldwide

Having a debit card from a well-known issuer like Mastercard or Visa has some benefits. For example, because these two card issuers are so popular, they are accepted as a form of payment in most countries. This can make payments much easier for global travelers. That said, be wary of possible international conversion fees (possibly 1% to 3% of the amount you swipe) plus foreign ATM usage charges.

19. There Were Three Major Players Until 2002

Until 2002, there were three main players in the debit card space. Alongside Mastercard and Visa, Europay was the other big player. In 2002, Europay merged with Mastercard.

20. Debit Cards Are More Popular than Credit Cards

Consumers have the option to use debit cards or credit cards if they don’t want to have cash on them when shopping or if they are shopping online. In one recent study, debit cards were found to be used almost twice as often as credit cards.

21. People Spend Less With Debit Than Credit Cards

While people may use debit cards more often than credit cards, they tend to spend more when using credit cards (almost 30% more), whether purchasing in person or shopping online.

The Takeaway

There’s a whole array of interesting facts about debit cards, from how they were developed to how they are made to how they can be used. What may stand out most among these 21 debit card facts is just how far payment technology has come in recent years and how much more convenient purchasing has become.

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Are debit cards more popular than credit cards?

Debit cards tend to be more popular than credit cards. Recent research found that consumers use debit cards almost twice as much as credit cards. However, when they do use credit cards, consumers typically tend to spend almost 30% more than they do with a debit card.

What is the difference between debit and prepaid cards?

The main difference between debit and prepaid cards is where the funds for payment come from. A debit card is linked to a bank account, but a prepaid card is not. Consumers need to load money onto a prepaid card before they can use it. Once they do so, that amount acts as their spending limit.

What debit card is the most popular?

Most banks offer their own debit card, but the majority of these are backed by one of two issuers, Visa or Mastercard. Currently, Visa is the more popular issuer.

What debit card fact is the most useful?

The most useful debit card fact to know may be either that you have a daily spending limit or that you must report a lost or stolen debit card ASAP to avoid being liable for any unauthorized usage. The longer you wait, the more you might owe.

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