Opening a Debit Card: 6 Things to Consider When Choosing a Bank

By Amelia Sawyers, Columbia University

ATMs are Key!

Choose a bank that has a lot of ATMs nearby or one that refunds out-of-network ATM fees.  Many banks charge people a small fee (usually around $2) if they use a different bank’s debit card at their ATM.  Some banks will refund the out-of-network ATM fees, but you need to research the specifics for each bank.  If you travel a lot, you should open an account with a bank that has branches around the world, so you can take out money without being inconvenienced during your trips.

Do You Meet the Minimum Balance?

Many banks require you to have a minimum amount of money in your account.  If you cannot meet this balance, you should get an account at a different bank without a minimum requirement.  Sometimes, banks will also charge you a monthly maintenance fee if you cannot meet the minimum balance.  For example, Chase bank will charge people with a checking account a monthly maintenance fee of $12 if they cannot meet the minimum $1500 balance.

Got Rewards?!

Sometimes, you can receive rewards for spending with your debit card.  If you get a Visa or TD Bank debit card, you receive discounts at some airport parking places or jewelry stores likes Gemvara, or even free two-day shipping from Ugg Australia.  Other banks with rewards programs include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank and PNC.

Online or In-Person Services?

You should also consider whether you want online services only or would prefer to have access to in-person service at a branch of the bank.  Ally Bank is an online checking service that has no minimum balance requirement and no ATM fees.  However, there is no physical branch for you to ask questions in-person.

Personalization, Say What?

Like some credit cards, debit cards can also be personalized.  For example, people can choose from a variety of PNC Bank’s Visa debit cards, which have affinities to universities or sports teams.  Not all banks offer this personal, fun aspect.

Safety is Important!

Debit cards are often seen as safer than carrying around a wad of cash.  Most cards have fraud monitoring and protection clauses (as long as you notify your bank of any suspicious, unauthorized activity).  At Chase and Citibank (among other banks), you don’t have to pay any money for unauthorized charges.  This clause is often called zero-liability protection. Today, most credit and debit cards include chips, which provide more protection than older cards without chips.  While this is a smaller thing to consider, if you are worried about fraud, it is recommended to have a card with a chip.

And, a Final Fun Fact...

Most debit cards have MasterCard or Visa logos on them.  However, it is important to note that neither MasterCard nor Visa actually distribute debit cards; only banks do.  Both companies are involved with payments between banks and stores when people use their debit card.