ATM Card, Debit Card, Credit Card: What’s the Difference?

Ever wonder what are the differences between ATM cards, debit cards, and credit cards? While they may seem similar, each works in a slightly different way and carries different protections.

Here’s a brief description of each type of card and how it may affect your checking account balance.

What is an ATM card?

ATMs or Automated Teller Machines are mostly used to withdraw cash. If a bank allows it, you can also make deposits into an account during and outside regular business banking hours. This card can only be used at ATMs and requires a PIN (Personal Identification Number).

All withdrawals using an ATM card are immediately deducted from the customer’s account.

If a card is lost or stolen and the consumer reports it before any fraudulent charges are made, there is no liability. If a missing card is reported within 2 days of fraudulent activity, then the maximum liability is $50.

If a card is reported lost or stolen more than 2 days but less than 60 days after it is missing, the consumer can be held liable for up to $500 of the loss. After 60 days, the consumer can be held responsible for the entire amount that is missing from their account, as well as any accounts that might be linked to it.

But my ATM has a Visa or MasterCard logo, what does that mean?

This is the most confusing type of card. This card can be used as an ATM card or at the point of purchase as a debit card or credit card. No matter how the card is used, it will be automatically deducted from your checking account.

If the card is used as a debit card, a PIN is usually requested. The purchase is immediately deducted from your checking account.

If the card is swiped and credit is chosen at the register, a PIN is usually not required. In this case, even though it was swiped as a credit card, it is still considered a debit card transaction. While it may take a few days, the purchase price will be deducted automatically from your checking account. 

Remember, whether a debit card is swiped as a debit or credit transaction, the purchase will be automatically deducted from the consumer’s checking account, but it could take a few days for a credit transaction to clear your account. That means it’s up to you to keep a mental record of the transaction and deduct it from your checking account balance the day of the purchase until the withdrawal has been made from your account.

Otherwise, you risk causing an overdraft on your checking account.

Visa and Mastercard branded debit cards have the same deadlines as ATM cards for reporting fraudulent activity: if reported within 2 days, the maximum liability is $50. After 2 days, the liability increases to $500. If the consumer waits 60 days, then they may lose their entire account plus any linked accounts. 

What is a credit card?

Credit cards allow a consumer to purchase goods and services by borrowing against an approved line of credit. It is a loan. Purchases made during the month are billed to the credit card holder, and you will pay the bill at a later date.  

Should you be unable to pay the entire balance due, then the credit card company charges you interest.

If the payment is late, the credit card company may also charge late fees and revoke promotional interest rates.

Unlike an ATM or ATM/Debit cards, all charges, as well as any cash advances, are not automatically deducted from your checking account, unless specific arrangements are made through the bank.

Credit cards carry some additional protections that debit and ATM cards do not have. If a credit card is lost or stolen, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, the maximum liability is $50. If the missing card is reported before any fraudulent charges are made, there is no liability at all. 

Type of Card

Immediate Withdrawal from a bank account

Receive a bill and pay at a later date

Liability if lost or stolen





Max of $50 if reported within 2 days; $500 if reported within 60 days; entire contents of account/linked account if reported after 60 days.

ATM/Debit Card with Visa or MasterCard logo*



Max of $50 if reported within 2 days; $500 if reported within 60 days; entire contents of account/linked account if reported after 60 days.





Credit Card (American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa)



$50 maximum

* When purchasing, you must choose whether the transaction will be a debit or credit transaction.  If it is swiped as a credit card transaction, the money may not be deducted for several days.


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