Skip to main content

How to activate a debit card

minute read

    A debit card lets you access a wide range of banking services at your fingertips — but you’ll have to activate it first. Perhaps you’re new to banking, or maybe you just got an updated debit card in the mail. Either scenario presents a great opportunity to learn how to activate a debit card. There are several kinds of options available to activate your debit card. Check with your financial institution for specific guidance as the content below is general in nature. Be sure to follow the activation instructions provided by your bank.

    How to activate a new debit card

    When you get your new debit card, it needs to be activated before you start putting it to use. This activation process connects your identity to your account. Activating the card also notifies the bank that it was received. These are the key security measures to help keep your account safe.

    There are a few ways that you may be able to activate a new debit card:

    Activate a debit card by phone

    You can use your mobile device to activate a debit card. Here’s how:

    • Call the bank's card activation number that can likely be found on the activation sticker on the front of your debit card.
    • Listen to the prompts on your call and go through them to activate your card. You can also talk to a customer service employee, at the bank or on the phone, if you need assistance.
    • Once connected, follow the directions provided during the phone call to complete the activation of your debit card.
    • If you misplace the activation sticker, you may be able to activate your debit card by calling the phone number on the back of the debit card.

    Activate a debit card online

    Another option you may have through your bank is to activate your debit card digitally.

    • Go to the URL provided on the activation sticker on the front of your card, or sign in to your bank's website. This may vary from bank to bank.
    • Have your debit card ready as you may need information on the card to activate.
    • Follow the prompts to finalize your card’s activation.

    Activate a debit card at an ATM

    Finally, you can activate your debit card at your bank’s nearest ATM. Here’s how:

    • Take the debit card and its pre-assigned four-digit PIN to your bank’s ATM.
    • Insert the debit card in the ATM and use the PIN provided by the bank.
    • Follow the prompts on your bank's ATM screen to finalize activation of your debit card.

    What is a debit card?

    A debit card works by withdrawing funds directly from your checking account. You can use it at the ATM to take out cash or, much like a credit card, to make a purchase. Let’s investigate some ways to use your debit card:

    Purchases with a debit card

    When you use a debit card to buy something, the money leaves your bank account right away to fund the purchase. You can use your debit card to make purchases in-person or online. Most debit cards are also compatible with several digital wallets, allowing for contactless payments at a variety of locations.

    ATM access

    This is a key debit card benefit — access to cash! ATMs punctuate our world today, offering convenient access to cash with your debit card. These cash withdrawals can often be made with little to no fees, at your bank's ATMs. You can also use your debit card at an ATM to sign in to your account and check your balances, as well as perform other services like bill payment or transfers between associated accounts.

    Cash withdrawals

    When you make a debit card purchase, some merchants may allow for cash withdrawals as part of the transaction. Your account will be debited for the total amount of your purchase plus the cash withdrawal. So, walk away from the merchant with the item you bought, as well as cash without going to an ATM. Note that some banks may charge a fee for this type of withdrawal.

    Potential benefits to using your debit card

    To start, there are many types of debit cards. While rare, you may even find debit card options that offer rewards. These opportunities are often thanks to a brand partnership between your bank and particular airlines, hotels or other companies.

    Another benefit to debit cards is the optional PIN at purchase. At the transaction point you can choose debit for payment. Once you choose debit, you input the PIN you created for the card. It’s the same four digits you use at the ATM when withdrawing cash. Choosing to pay this way adds a layer of protection to the transaction because it can’t be made without your personal identification number.

    In summary

    Debit cards can help you pay and access cash on the go. They also offer innovative ways to pay with mobile apps, dips and taps. Once you know how to activate a debit card, you’ll have access to all these features and more.

    What to read next