Question: I have a debit card but I'm not sure what I can do with it. Can I use the debit card at an ATM if I need cash?
Answer: Yes, you most certainly can use your debit card at an ATM for cash withdrawals. You might be able to do much more than that depending on your bank. In fact, before everybody had debit cards, banks used to issue "ATM cards" for exactly that purpose: you could walk up to a machine and withdraw cash without using a teller or visiting the branch during banking hours.
At some point, the banks must have figured out that they could get customers to do a lot more than just use debit cards at ATMs – people were carrying them around everywhere, so why not turn them into payment cards? As a result, banks and payment processors joined forces, and almost nobody issues an ATM-only card anymore (they’re almost all debit cards that you can use at retailers, online, and just about anywhere you’d use a credit card).
Today, debit cards are available even if you don't have a bank account. Prepaid cards allow you to "load" funds onto the card, and you can withdraw cash just like with a traditional debit card.
Watch out for Fees
Note that using your debit card at an ATM may cost you. Most ATMs charge a fee for withdrawing cash, and that fee might run from $2 to $5 or more. In addition, your bank might charge a fee if you use an ATM from another bank. So it’s important to know your bank’s policy, and to read the ATM screen carefully before taking money out (the ATM should inform you of any fee and allow you to back out of the transaction). The best way to use your debit card at an ATM is to use your own bank’s ATM. Find out where branches are near your home or workplace, or find out if there’s an ATM “network” that you can use without paying fees. For more ideas, see Where to find Free ATMs.
How to Use a Debit Card at an ATM
Before you use any ATM, be sure that it is safe to do so. Try to stick to ATMs in clean, well-lit places. Sometimes thieves hang around waiting for people who have obviously just withdrawn cash. It’s also a good idea to look over the ATM to see if anything looks suspicious. Sometimes thieves attach skimming devices to ATMs. Those devices can steal your card number, and there might even be hidden cameras installed that can see you type in your PIN. If anything looks funny, move on to the next ATM.
To use your debit card at an ATM, just insert your card into the machine. You might have to stick it in all the way (the machine will take the card), or you might just push the card until it stops and pull it back out. You can do this quickly – the machine is able to read your card instantly.
Next, you’ll probably have to enter your PIN. Be sure to cover the keypad as you do this – you don’t want anybody to see your PIN (you can use your free hand, or block the keypad with your body, but putting your hand in the way is best in case a hidden camera is installed near the ATM).
Finally, follow the on-screen instructions. Be sure to get your card back if the machine held onto it, and be sure that the machine has completely closed out your transaction before you walk away.
Once you get the hang of using ATMs you can use them for more than just cash withdrawals. You can deposit checks and transfer money between accounts, and some ATMs may even allow you to talk with a customer service representative via videoconference.