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Can you use your debit card as a credit card?

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Yes, technically it’s possible for many debit cards to be scanned and processed as credit. Whether you should use your debit card in this way, however, is another story. You may find that using a debit card as credit does not serve your interests, and could even cause some complications.

Of course, there are many valid reasons you may want to process a debit purchase as credit. What if I have insufficient funds in my bank account but need to make an emergency purchase with my debit card? What if I want to improve my credit score but don’t own a credit card? We’ll discuss these questions and more in greater detail so that you can decide what’s best for you.

What happens when I use my debit card as credit?

When it comes down to it, running a card as “credit” or “debit” is simply a way of processing a payment—it doesn’t matter what type of card you use.

A credit payment is an offline transaction. The funds are only deducted from your account after the merchant utilizes a credit card processor to settle your purchase. Since this process usually takes two to three days, the credit payment is reflected in your account balance a few days after your purchase.

A debit payment, on the other hand, is an online transaction. It is executed in real time, immediately extracting money from the cardholder’s checking account by sending transaction information through an electronic funds transfer (EFT) network.

Although debit transactions are online, you can still run your debit card as though it were a credit card, causing the register to process your payment as an offline transaction. This bypasses the need to enter your card’s PIN number and increases the processing time of the payment. However, it still pulls money directly from your checking account and does not charge you any interest.

So it’s possible to run a debit card as credit, but what are the pros and cons of doing so? You’ll likely find that none are too consequential.

Using debit card as credit

Pro:

  • You may be able to build up cardholder benefits. Some debit cards, when processed as credit, allow you to take advantage of certain benefits. These may include rewards programs or fraud protections.

Cons:

  • It could cost the merchant more money. While fees vary depending on the merchant, merchants must often pay higher fees when processing cards as credit rather than debit. 
  • The payment takes two to three days to process. Since running a debit card as credit requires it to be processed through a credit card network, you lose the benefit of watching your transaction execute in real time.
Running a debit card as credit takes the money directly from your bank account — it just gets processed in the same amount of time as a credit card transaction (1 to 3 days).

Can I use debit as credit if I have insufficient funds?

Perhaps the most common question that prompts this discussion about debit cards revolves around borrowed money, better known as credit: Can I use my debit card as credit with insufficient funds in my bank account?

Unfortunately, the simple answer is no.

Something that makes credit cards so convenient is that they offer the flexibility of making purchases even if you don’t have cash on hand. Of course, you’ll still have to pay your credit card bill in the end, but buying with credit means you don’t have to worry about waiting for deposits to clear in order to make a purchase. When you pay with a debit card, on the other hand, your transaction will be declined if you don’t have sufficient funds in the bank, even if you process the transaction as credit.

However, there are a few other ways to pay with a debit card even if you don’t have cash in your account.

One option you may have is to sign up for overdraft protection. With this service, your bank’s got your back. If you make a transaction without sufficient funds in your checking account to cover your purchase, your bank will extract the money from one of your backup accounts and help you pay in that moment—much better than watching your card get declined.

Similarly, if you can’t afford an item that you want, you could opt into a layaway plan and pay for the product over a set period of time in concordance with a retailer.

While it’s not a great idea to use overdraft protection or layaway plans in place of developing a financial management strategy, these are practical ways to bypass your debit card’s lack of flexibility when times get tough.

Most debit card overdraft fees come from purchases of $24 or less, making the fee more expensive than most overdraft transactions.

What about online purchases?

If you’re wondering whether you can use your debit card as credit for online purchases, the answer tends to be no. Although debit cards are almost always accepted as payment in place of credit cards when prompted at checkout, there is rarely an option to process a debit card as a credit card online.

If you do shop online with a debit card, it’s especially important to be aware of security risks. Since debit transactions withdraw money directly (as opposed to credit transactions, which take place a few days after the fact), you’ll have less opportunity to stop a fraudulent charge on a debit card than a credit card. 

With the rapid development of hacking technology and the inability of modern cybersecurity measures to fully mitigate threats, it is best to use credit cards over debit cards when shopping online.

That said, not everyone owns a credit card. If you intend to make a purchase online with your debit card, it is wise to do so on a secure site while connected to a safe, familiar network.

Check for an unbroken padlock symbol on websites before entering your card information, as this means your information will be encrypted.

Will using debit as credit improve my score?

While there are a wide variety of ways to build a credit score from scratch, using a debit card as credit is not one of them. Since debit card activity doesn’t involve borrowing money, it doesn’t get reported to credit bureaus (and thus doesn’t impact your credit score), even when used as credit.

Although you can’t build credit through debit card purchases, there are plenty of ways to build credit without a credit card. Paying rent and loans on time and gaining authorized user status with the help of a friend or family member can help you grow your score before you’re ready to use a credit card.

While debit cards are great tools for making payments with ease and keeping track of expenses, building and maintaining good credit goes much further than using a debit card well.

Whether you have yet to begin developing your credit score or are looking to fix a struggling score, consistency and mindfulness are of utmost importance. Remember to regularly check your credit score, stay on top of your payments, and be wary of how many credit cards you have, so that the next time you’re ready to make a big purchase, you’ll be seen as someone who lenders and renters can trust.

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