What Is a Debit Card?

Updated on March 5, 2024

A debit card is more of a commodity than a luxury. Almost everyone who has a bank account carries one. The benefits are plentiful, and it’s a great way to go cashless. But what many people don’t know is that there’s a minimum age requirement for possessing debit cards. In this article, we’ll explain how old you need to be to get a debit card.

How Do Debit Cards Work?

A debit card is a plastic card with an embedded electronic chip that helps you pay money at a terminal. Debit cards are sometimes called check cards because the money is debited directly from your checking account to pay for a purchase. Therefore, to use a debit card, you must link it with your checking account and maintain a sufficient balance. Purchases can be made at both online and brick-and-mortar facilities.

In the United States, you’re not eligible to enter into a contract with a financial institution unless you’re a legal resident and at least 18 years of age. A person who is under the age of 18 is called a minor. Minors cannot open and operate a bank account. And since they cannot have a bank account, they cannot get a debit card.

That’s not to say that minors cannot use someone else’s card if they possess it. In case of misuse, the onus will be on the guardian or the cardholder. Therefore, it’s wise not to give a debit card to a minor unless it’s essential.

But that’s not the end of the road. Minors can still use other types of cards. In the next section, you’ll learn about the different kinds of cards available for children to use. 

Types of Debit Cards

There are many types of debit cards you can use for your banking and shopping purposes. Each one is meant for a specific purpose, but there are overlaps nevertheless. Compare the types and see which ones closely match your requirements.

Check Card

This is the most common type of debit card. In fact, as already mentioned, check cards are the same thing as debit cards. With this type of debit card, the money you pay at a storefront is deducted directly from your bank account instead of any credit limit you may have with a credit card. This is the easiest way to access the funds you keep in your account. Minors can get a debit card only issued to their parents or guardian.

EMV Debit Card

An EMV debit card, or simply an EMV card, was once known as “Europay, Mastercard, and Visa.” This is an upgraded version of standard debit cards made in collaboration with the top 3 financial services companies in the world. These are accepted at compatible point of sale (POS) terminals. Along with the United States, 80 countries have implemented EMV. Besides that, all other processes and functionalities remain the same. You’ll be using it just like a regular debit card. It’s the enhanced security and standardization that makes the difference.

ATM Card

Most people confuse an ATM card with a debit card. An ATM card allows you to withdraw money from an Automated Teller Machine, while a debit card can be used at POS terminals and online stores. Then there are ATM-cum-debit cards that can be used across all of these places. Most ATM cards can work like a debit card. ATM cards are generally considered safe for minors since they do not allow for online transactions and are more accountable.

Prepaid Card

Prepaid cards are those cards that have a pre-loaded amount into them. So when you pay for a transaction, the amount is deducted from this pre-loaded amount and not from your checking account. You are limited to the amount you load. Therefore, these cards are much like credit cards. This is safer among minors because you can set a monthly limit.

Gift Card

Gift cards are specific, and they can be used only for a particular type of transaction. These cards are usually pre-loaded and then gifted to someone else. The cardholder can then use it at specific terminals to pay for the purchase.

All of the cards deduct the balance from your linked bank account. Therefore, you must maintain sufficient balance all the time.

Which Is the Right Debit Card for You?

There is no specific answer to which one is the right card for you. If you’re looking for a debit card for a minor, you can offer a prepaid card and limit the transactions to a few hundred dollars per month. This way, you can ensure that they don’t overspend intentionally or unintentionally. You can surprise them with a gift card on their birthday or graduation ceremony. You can offer them your debit card if you’re comfortable with their spending habits. So it depends on your preference and confidence level. 

Getting a Debit Card Under 18

There’s a way to get a debit card under the age of 18; the process starts with opening a checking or savings account as a co-signer. The bank will then issue a debit card to the minor. The funds will usually be taken from the bank account. But one thing to keep in mind is that ultimately the co-signer who is above 18 years of age will be held accountable for all usage.

Alternatively, parents can also add their child’s name to their existing bank account and apply for a debit card in his name. This card will be tied to the account and debit accordingly.


It’s necessary to teach minors about money management, and banking cards are a great way. You can start with prepaid cards or open a joint account. Keep the balance to a minimum and monitor the transactions from time to time. After 18 years of age, they can have their own savings/checkings account and debit or credit card.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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