Using debit cards

From Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

A debit card is a plastic card that you can use to pay for goods and services, or withdraw money, directly from your bank account. You may have to pay a fee when you use your debit card.

Financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, usually give you a debit card when you sign up for an account.

Information you must receive when getting a debit card

Organizations that sign on to the Debit Card Code, such as banks, agree to give you the following information before you get a debit card:

  • your responsibility in protecting your PIN and debit card
  • the possible effects of not protecting your card and PIN
  • who to contact if you have a problem
  • a copy of the cardholder agreement

Daily limits

Your financial institution may set a daily dollar limit on the amount of money you can withdraw from your account with your debit card. Your financial institution may check your credit history to set the daily limit on the card.

There may be different limits for:

  • cash withdrawals
  • in-store purchases
  • online purchases

Check with your financial institution to find out about your debit card's daily limit and any fees that may apply when you use your debit card.

Personal identification number (PIN)

Your personal identification number, or PIN, is a numeric password that verifies your identity. It allows you to access your account information.

You’ll need a PIN to use your debit card. You don’t need a PIN for contactless payment where you tap your card on a payment terminal.

Choosing your PIN

Some financial institutions may send you a pre-assigned PIN for your debit card. Others may ask you to choose the PIN. If you don’t receive a PIN, contact your financial institution.

To protect yourself against fraud, change the PIN that the financial institution gives you. When you choose your own PIN, choose one that others can’t guess easily.

Choose a unique PIN.

Don’t use any of the following, alone or in combination:

  • your name
  • your phone number
  • your date of birth
  • your Social Insurance Number (SIN)
  • your address
  • anything else that someone may guess easily

Protect your PIN

You may be responsible for unauthorized transactions, meaning those you didn’t make or approve, if you don’t protect your PIN.

To protect your PIN:

  • don’t keep it close to your debit card
  • don’t write it on your debit card
  • never give it to anyone, not even a family member
  • cover the PIN pad when entering it at an ATM or in-store terminal
  • cancel the transaction and use a different machine if someone is watching you or if you suspect anything unusual
  • notify your financial institution immediately if you think somebody has it

Convenience fees

In some cases, you may need to pay a convenience fee for the use of the payment terminal when you pay with your debit card in-store.

A merchant or ATM operator can charge you a convenience fee or surcharge fee if:

  • the fee appears on the screen where you enter your PIN
  • it gives you the option to cancel the transaction at no cost before you complete your transaction

Note that:

  • most merchants don’t charge a fee when you pay by debit
  • some merchants may require that you make a minimum purchase to pay by debit

To avoid fees when using debit to pay for purchases, you can:

  • use other means of payment, such as cash, cheque or credit card
  • check to find out if the merchant charges to accept these other forms of payment and if so, how much
  • go to another merchant who does not charge for this service

Contact Interac if the merchant didn't notify you of the surcharge on the PIN pad screen.

Interac can investigate the situation if you provide:

  • the name and address of the merchant
  • details from the transaction record
  • the amount of the surcharge

You can also file a complaint with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office.

ATM transactions

You can use your debit card at an ATM for transactions such as deposits, withdrawals and bill payments from your account.

When you use your debit card at an ATM, you’ll need to insert your card and enter your PIN to complete transactions. You may pay a fee if you use an ATM that does not belong to your own financial institution.

A convenience fee can may also be a fee charged by an ATM operator to non-customers for the use of their ATM. For example, you’ll pay a convenience fee when you withdraw money from your account using another financial institution’s ATM.

Find out how much you may pay in ATM fees.

What to do if an ATM keeps your debit card

If the ATM keeps your debit card, contact your financial institution or the ATM owner directly. Most ATMs will have contact information posted on them. There may be a toll-free number.

Ask your financial institution to cancel your lost debit card and issue a new one. This will protect you against fraud.

Making purchases

You may use your debit card to make in-store and online pruchases.

In-store purchases

When you use your debit card in-store, you’ll need to insert your card or swipe it in the payment terminal, or tap it on the terminal. If you insert or swipe your card, you’ll need to enter your PIN on the PIN pad to authorize the transactions.

You may pay a convenience fee when using your debit card for in-store purchases.

Online purchases

You can use your debit card to make purchases online. When you do this, you don’t need to give personal financial details to the online merchant. You also don’t need to create a separate online bank account to make purchases.

If you use the Interac Online service to buy something from a merchant’s website, you’ll be protected against fraudulent transactions. Some financial institutions and card issuers may also extend these protections to mobile transactions.

Using debit when you travel

Your debit card will work in most countries, but there are some exceptions.

Some countries may not have ATMs, but may still let you use your debit card for in-store purchases.

Using your debit card in other countries

Whether or not your debit card will work in other countries depends on which ATM networks your financial institution belongs to.

Look to see which ATM network logo appears the back of your debit card. For example, your card may list logos like Plus, Maestro or Cirrus. You’ll need to check each foreign ATM machine before using it to see if it's part of your financial institution’s ATM network.

Before travelling, check with your card issuer for more information. The name or logo of the card issuer is usually on the card itself or on the card packaging.

Finding ATMs in other countries

The most common ATM networks belong to Visa and MasterCard.

Visa owns:

  • the Plus network

MasterCard owns:

  • Maestro
  • Cirrus

Both companies have ATM locators that you may use to help find ATMs in the countries where you plan to travel.

If you can’t find an ATM in the places you plan to visit, you’ll need to find other ways of exchanging cash, such as at local banks or currency exchanges.

Travel with other forms of money, such as a credit card, prepaid travel card or cash in case someone steals your debit card or it does not work.

Learn how to use prepaid cards.

Get information on using credit cards in other countries.

Unauthorized transactions when using your debit card in other countries

Check with your card issuer to find out how you’re protected when using debit in other countries. Your protection will depend on who issued the card and which payment card network, such as Visa or MasterCard, owns the ATM network.

Tips for using debit in other countries

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to use your debit card outside of Canada:

  • foreign currency conversion fees may apply when withdrawing money from an ATM in another country
  • some foreign ATMs may not recognize a PIN that is longer than 4 digits
  • you may need to change your PIN to one that foreign ATMs will recognize before you travel
  • some banks and credit unions will freeze your card if transactions are made outside of where you normally travel

You may want to notify your financial institution of when and where you plan to travel. This will help make sure your debit card isn’t frozen while you travel. Contact your financial institution or check your account agreement for more information.

Unauthorized debit transactions

You’re protected against unauthorized transactions when you use debit card services in store, at a point-of-sale terminal or at an ATM.

You may get money back for unauthorized transactions if you take steps to protect your PIN.

You're not responsible for losses that result from circumstances beyond your control, this includes:

  • technical problems. For example, the ATM didn’t give you the full amount cash you asked for, but still deducts the amount you asked for from the account.
  • unauthorized transactions, as long as you didn’t contribute to the loss. For example, you would have contributed to the loss if you shared your PIN with someone.

You’ll be responsible for losses situations where you contribute to or encourage unauthorized use of your card.

This includes:

  • told your card’s PIN to someone else
  • kept a written record of the PIN "in proximity to" the card, including writing the PIN on the back of the card
  • didn’t report your card as being lost or stolen as soon as possible
  • refused to cooperate in any investigation of unauthorized use
  • made fraudulent deposits with your cards

Check your card agreement to make sure you know your responsibilities.

Lost or stolen debit cards

Report your card as lost or stolen as soon as possible. Check your cardholder agreement for the length of time you have to report the card lost or stolen.

If your card is lost or stolen and purchases are charged to it afterwards, you, as the cardholder, won’t be held responsible if:

  • your card has expired or had previously been cancelled
  • you report that someone else, beyond your control, may know your PIN
  • you've taken reasonable steps to protect your PIN

Some debit cards have a payment card network logo, such as Visa or MasterCard. If you pay online using this type of debit card, the network’s zero liability protections apply. Check the terms and conditions and contact the card issuer for more details. The name or logo of the card issuer can usually be found on the card itself.

Make a complaint about a debit transaction

Learn who to contact if you have a problem with a debit transaction and how to file a complaint:

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