These days, most banks offer a convenient way to access and use your checking account: a debit card. It’s a great way to eliminate the need for cash and interest-heavy credit cards, whether you’re buying something locally or shopping online.

If you’ve never used a debit card before, it’s easy to get started. And if you’ve used a debit card for a long time, there are some newer features you’ll want to take advantage of.

First things first

You’ll receive your debit card from the bank after you open a checking account. Typically, you’ll need to call a dedicated phone number to activate the card and select a Personal Identification Number, or PIN, a code you use to access the account. Some banks will assign you a PIN, while others will let you choose your own. If you’re choosing the number, make sure it’s nothing too obvious. The harder it is to guess your PIN, the harder it will be for someone to gain access to your account.

Use your card the way you want

Your debit card works just like a credit card, except the money comes directly from your bank account. This can be a good thing, since there’s no waiting for a bill to arrive and no interest piling up. But you’ll want to be sure to stick to your budget so you don’t overdraw on your account. (At Old National, you can use Card Controls and Alerts to ensure you don’t overspend, and the Money Management budgeting tool to keep you on track.)

You can swipe or insert your card when you’re shopping in-store, dining in restaurants or stopping at places like the gas pump. Some locations will let you choose debit or credit, and you can choose either one, though picking credit means you won’t have to take time to enter your PIN. You’ll need to choose debit and enter your PIN if you want cash back along with your purchase, though.

And, of course, if you do need cash, you can use your card and PIN at an ATM—just be sure you know your bank’s policies on fees for using other banks’ machines. (At Old National, fee-free cash withdrawals are available at any Old National ATM or Allpoint® partner ATM.)

Added convenience

For more convenience and security—as well as a contact-free option—you can add your debit card to a digital wallet, such as Apple Pay™, Google Pay or Samsung Pay. This allows you to keep a digital version of your card on your smartphone, smartwatch or other device. It even uses a separate device number when you pay, so you have an additional layer of security. And because you simply hold your device over a sensor at the card reader, no contact with the machine is required. Just make sure you follow the setup directions for the digital wallet version you are using, since each manufacturer has different requirements.

Keeping your account safe

As with most credit cards, you’ll want to keep your debit card safe and notify your bank immediately if it’s lost or stolen. If you let them know quickly, you won’t be responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If your bank has Card Controls and Alerts enabled for your account, you can easily set up different notifications around your card use, and turn your card off when needed (and back on when you’re ready). Some banks, like Old National, even have free 24/7 fraud monitoring for extra peace of mind. And when you use digital banking, you can keep track of all the payments you’ve made in one place, giving you more control.

Have more questions about debit cards?

Learn about activating a debit card, changing your debit card PIN and more on our debit card page.

This content is not intended to provide legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice or indicate the suitability of any product or service for your unique circumstances. You are encouraged to consult with a qualified legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professional based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.