August 24, 2021
How old do you have to be to get a debit card?
Debit cards let you spend more easily. You can get a debit card while young, too. Learn the minimum age to get a debit card and what to look for in one.
Getting older means becoming increasingly independent from your parents.
Part of that process is becoming financially independent, especially as you prepare to leave home for the first time to head off to college.
If you want financial independence, you’ll need your bank account and debit card.
But are you old enough to get one?
In this article, we’ll cover how old you have to be to get a debit card, when the right time really is to get a debit card, and a few things you should consider before taking this step.
How old do you have to be to get a debit card?
The age when you officially become an adult in the United States, called the age of majority, is 18. And among other milestones that come with turning 18, it’s also the age when you can open an individual checking account with a linked debit card that allows you to withdraw or spend the money in the account.
If you aren’t 18 yet, you can still get a debit card, but to open a checking account as a minor, you’ll have to have a parent or guardian as a joint account holder. Your parents can give you access to a debit card as an authorized user on their existing account, or you can open a joint account together.
Some banks have accounts specifically intended for teenagers, while others might just have you open a traditional checking account jointly with a parent.
Most banks still have minimum age requirements to be a joint account holder, and they tend to range from ages 13–17.
When is the right time to get a debit card?
Whether you’re 18 or not, you’ll be able to get a debit card. If you’re under 18, you’ll just need a parent or guardian on the account with you.
But when you’re deciding whether or not to get a debit card, age may not be the most important factor. Instead, there are other questions you can ask yourself to know when the time is right.
Do you have a regular income?
If you’ve picked up a part-time job and are earning an income, it’s probably time to set up a bank account and get a debit card.
First, some employers might pay solely via direct deposit, meaning you’ll need to provide bank account information to get your paychecks.
Even if your employer pays with a check, it’s still easier and safer to have your earnings in a bank account rather than as cash in your wallet. You won’t need to head to the bank to cash the check, which will save you time.
It might not be worth opening a bank account before you have a source of income. Some banks have a minimum opening deposit amount and may even have a minimum balance requirement.
And without any income, your bank account will likely sit unused most of the time.
Some banks close accounts if there’s no balance or activity for a certain time, too. You’ll need to open an account all over again if that happens.
Do you have regular expenses?
If you’re in college or getting ready to start, chances are you have some regular expenses that you’re in charge of paying.
These days, most bills are paid online. So if you’ve bills to pay, you’ll probably need a bank account.
Even if your regular expenses don’t necessarily need to be paid online, it can still be easier to do with a debit card. It prevents you from carrying cash around all the time, and it gives you easier access to the money in your account. Plus, it allows you to track your purchases online easily.
You might be able to add your debit card to a digital wallet app on your smartphone. If you do this, you can leave the card at home to minimize the chances of losing it.
Do you have some independence from your parents?
The older you get, the more independence you have from your parents.
Sure, they might still be paying the household bills and buying the groceries, but chances are you’re spending more time away from them and making more of your own decisions.
This becomes even more true as you prepare to head off to college.
When you’re away at college, your parents won’t be there to swipe their card for your every purchase. You’re going to be the one buying groceries, putting gas in your car, paying for entertainment, and covering other expenses.
So while your parents may still ultimately be footing the bill, you’ll need a debit card to pay for those things in the moment.
Do you feel you can use a debit card responsibly?
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is whether you think you can use a debit card responsibly. After all, swiping a plastic card is much easier than handing over cash for every purchase.
If you have regular income and expenses, a checking account and debit card make sense. But if you’re constantly overspending and paying overdraft fees (what the bank charges you if your account goes below $0), then that debit card might be more hassle than it’s worth. Spending more than you make can cost you a lot in overdraft fees and put you into debt if you aren’t careful.
Pros and cons of having a debit card
Maybe you read through the questions above and feel confident it’s time to get a debit card. Even if that’s the case, you should consider the pros and cons upfront.
You can’t (usually) spend more than you have: Unlike a credit card, a debit card can prevent you from spending more than you actually have—but overdraft protection is optional, and you can choose to have it. If you don't, and you do overspend, some banks will make you pay an overdraft fee. Overdraft fees can be reversed in rare instances, but it’s best to avoid them.
Without overdraft protection, if you swipe your card for a $15 purchase but you only have $10 in your account, the card will be declined if the bank doesn’t charge overdraft fees. If overdraft protection is set up, your card will go through and take money from another account you have linked (usually a savings account). This avoids going into the negative and having to pay an overdraft fee.
And while those fees can be a hassle, having limits imposed on your spending is actually to your benefit. It prevents you from racking up a ton of debt and helps you build good money habits.
They’re safer and more convenient than cash: Carrying around a wallet of cash can be risky. What happens if you lose your wallet? You’re out of all of that money. But if you lose your debit card, you can immediately call your card issuer and cancel it, preventing anyone else from spending your money. The issuer will send you a replacement card right away so that you can get back to using it.
Plus, cash isn’t all that convenient anymore, especially with so many purchases happening online.
Another safety feature of debit cards is that they require a PIN code when shopping or during ATM withdrawals, which cash and credit cards don’t.
They’re cheap or free to use: While some banks charge monthly fees for checking accounts and debit cards, those fees are pretty easy to avoid.
First, plenty of banks and credit unions don’t charge fees. And even those that do often waive fees for teen and student accounts or if you meet some other simple requirements.
They’re easy to get: The world of finance doesn’t always feel accessible. There are plenty of products, like loans, that are difficult to get if you don’t have financial literacy, solid credit, and money in the bank.
Luckily, debit cards are very accessible, and many financial institutions offer checking accounts and debit cards to people with poor or no credit. All you’ll need is basic personal information, a few forms of ID, and if it’s a student account, proof that you’re enrolled in school.
They help you develop money management skills: Getting your own checking account and debit card is one of the first steps you’ll take toward becoming financially independent.
Using a debit card and tracking your spending responsibly helps you create money management skills that will benefit you for the rest of your life!
There is little fraud protection: Identity theft is a real problem, and there’s always a chance of someone getting their hands on your debit card or account number and spending your hard-earned money.
Unfortunately, debit cards don’t offer much in the way of fraud protection. Sure, you might eventually be reimbursed for fraudulent purchases. But you’re out all that money in the meantime, which can result in overdraft fees and not having money to cover your expenses. Credit cards tend to have more security and liability protections if you lose them or become a victim of identity theft.
Additionally, while debit card transactions often require a PIN, that’s not the case if the card is run as a credit card or in the case of most online transactions.
They don’t build your credit score: Your credit score is one of the most important numbers when it comes to your finances.
A good credit score is what will eventually help you buy a house, finance a car, rent an apartment, and even get a job in some cases. And unfortunately, using a debit card (unlike a credit card) does nothing to help build your credit score.
There is a potential for overdraft fees: It’s great that checking accounts force you to keep your spending in check.
But if you aren’t diligent about tracking your balance and spending, you may end up paying overdraft fees when you spend more than you have in your account.
You may have to pay ATM fees to access your cash: While you can do most of your spending with a debit card, you’re also likely to find yourself in situations where you need cash.
Unfortunately, you’ll usually end up paying ATM fees if you withdraw cash from ATMs not included with your bank. And if you use a bank without many ATMs, you might be stuck paying ATM fees more than you’d like.
You may be subject to minimum balance fees: Many checking accounts require that you have a certain amount of money in your bank account at all times. If you dip below that amount, you’ll pay a monthly maintenance fee for your account.
What to look for in a debit card
Between traditional banks, credit unions, and online banks, you have no shortage of checking accounts and debit cards to choose from. And honestly, it can feel overwhelming to narrow it down with so many options!
While you should find a financial institution that best fits your needs, here are a few things you should generally look for:
No fees: Some banks charge monthly fees for various reasons, including a fee for your debit card, an account fee, or a fee for having below a certain balance. But since many banks and credit unions don’t charge these fees, they’re easy to avoid––just be on the lookout for them.
Overdraft protection: If your bank has overdraft fees, they can add up if you aren’t careful. Some institutions offer overdraft protection either as an added perk or by connecting your checking account to a savings account at the same bank or credit union. Some banks charge a fee to transfer money from your savings account to your checking account to cover your overspending, but it’s usually less than an overdraft fee. And while it’s best not to overdraft your account, overdraft protection can be a great feature to help prevent costly fees. While banks often charge a fee for overdraft protection, it’s smaller than the typical overdraft fee.
Mobile banking app: Most banks and credit unions offer mobile apps, making it easier to track your expenses, deposit checks, transfer money, and more. Look for mobile apps that have an intuitive user experience in them.
Easy transfers: When choosing a bank, don’t just consider the perks of spending your money with a debit card. Pay attention to how easy it is to transfer your money to internal and external bank accounts. You might use transfers for everything from moving money to savings, paying a friend back, or receiving money from your parents.
What if I already have a debit card?
If you had a job as a teen or your parents gave you money for spending, then there’s a good chance you already have a joint checking account with a debit card.
Now you might be wondering, what happens when you turn 18?
The good news is that if you currently have a parent or guardian on your checking account and want to upgrade to your own account, there are a few ways to do that.
First, depending on your bank, you might simply be able to fill out a form with your parents to have them removed from your account.
But some banks won’t remove joint account holders. Instead, you’ll have to open a new account.
When you upgrade to an individual account, be sure to ask your bank about account fees. Some banks waive their normal fees for teen and student accounts but charge them once you have a regular bank account.
If your bank typically charges fees, but you’ve been avoiding them with a student or teen account, it might be time to shop around for a new bank.
Debit card vs. credit card
If you’re 18 or older and already have a debit card, then you might be wondering whether it’s time to get a credit card as well.
Credit cards can be a great tool to help you build a credit history and cover emergency expenses. They also come with better fraud protection than most debit cards. According to the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, your stolen debit card’s liability could be unlimited if you fail to report the loss within 60 days and unauthorized transactions occur.
On the other hand, the Fair Credit Billing Act caps your liability at just $50, regardless of how long you take to report it. So, losing a credit card is much less risky.
But credit cards can also be dangerous because it’s easy to overspend. While you’re no longer limited to your bank balance, you might have a credit limit far higher than what you need.
Far too often, people sign up for their first credit card, think of it as free money, and then spend more than they can pay back. And doing so can have serious long-term impacts on your finances.
Here are a few differences between credit and debit cards to consider:
You must be 18 to open an individual checking account and get a debit card. That’s the age when you become an adult and can become responsible for your finances.
Luckily, there are options for getting a debit card before the age of 18. Parents can typically open joint checking accounts with their children by the age of 13.
And as more people realize the importance of teaching children about money at a young age, the options continue to grow for children even younger.
While a debit card is an important financial tool—especially once you’re managing your own finances—it’s also important to understand the risks and downsides and take precautions to keep your money safe.
If you’re ready to get a debit card, consider the Mos card—the first one that helps you pay for college.
Teens can take advantage of Mos, too. Parents and their teens can open a joint account together, allowing the teen to get comfortable with managing their money and using a debit card. Meanwhile, their parents can teach them critical personal finance lessons and help them fix any mistakes they make early on.
Mos can help you with all of your college financial needs, matching you with all the financial aid and scholarships you’re eligible for, with real-human advisors guiding you through the whole process. Teens and parents can work with their advisors to put together a plan for paying for college.
Plus, students can earn money in their free time through the gigs marketplace. Walk dogs, sell your notes, tutor other students, and more. Earn points redeemable for cash, and then stash that money in your Mos account.
Check out Mos today.