Having plastic in your wallet is almost a necessity these days. Not only is it convenient to be able to swipe or tap to make a payment for your everyday purchases, but some retailers require it. And if you do any shopping online, you’ll likely need to have some type of credit or debit card to complete a transaction.
Before you acquire your next piece of plastic, it’s important to know that not all card types are created equal. Below, we’ll dive more deeply into the differences between an ATM card vs. a debit card vs. a credit card — but first, here’s a quick look at the basics:
|Feature||ATM Card||Debit Card||Credit Card|
|Funds connected to bank account:||Yes||Yes||No|
|Use anywhere cards are accepted:||No||Yes||Yes|
|Receive a bill and pay later:||No||No||Yes|
|Affects credit score:||No||No||Yes|
|Best place to obtain:||Ask Your Bank||Ask Your Bank||See 71 offers|
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of each card type to help you decide which options may be most suited for your situation. Use these links to jump ahead to a specific card, or keep scrolling to read about all three. We’ll cover the similarities and differences between credit cards, ATM cards, and debit cards; take a look at some of our top picks for credit cards with the best perks; and provide information on how to decide which type of card is best for you.
1. Credit Cards: To Be Used Anywhere and Are Like Loans
While credit cards appear very much like debit cards and ATM cards, they have a very different impact on your bottom line.
- Credit cards, unlike most debit or ATM cards, are the same as taking out a loan and require a bank or lending institution to review an application and approve you for creditworthiness. If you would have a hard time getting a loan, you may not be able to get a credit card.
- Just the act of applying for a credit card can affect your credit. When the financial institution pulls your credit report, your score can take a small, temporary hit. Too many applications can have a significantly negative outcome for your credit history.
- Having the right card, however, can set you up with the opportunity to make payments on time, increase your limits, and show creditworthiness. All of these will raise your score and make you eligible for even bigger and better card offers.
- There are added consumer protections that credit card holders may qualify for, including extended warranties and travel insurance. They also offer the best protection against fraud, and you will find credit card companies to be very helpful if you ever have to dispute a charge based on faulty or unacceptable service or product performance.
- While some banks are starting to offer small cash-back rewards for debit card usage, credit cards are still mostly responsible for the best perks and offers. Cash-back, frequent flyer miles, hotel stays, and big discounts can be given for responsible purchases and on-time payments.
Here are some of our expert’s top choices for credit cards with the best perks:
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening.
- Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
- No annual fee
- No minimum to redeem for cash back
- Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
0% 15 Months
- Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate. Enjoy new 5% categories each quarter!
- Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases - it's automatic
- 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 14.99 - 23.74%.
- 3% intro balance transfer fee when you transfer a balance during the first 60 days your account is open, with a minimum of $5.
- No annual fee
0% Intro APR on Purchases 15 months
0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers 15 months
14.99% - 23.74% Variable
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
at the issuer'ssecure website
- Earn $500 bonus cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
- Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
- Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
- 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
- Chase is not an affiliate partner with CardRates and does not review editorial content on our site
0% Intro APR on Purchases 12 months
N/A 12 months
13.24% - 19.24% Variable
Before you go thinking that you could not possibly qualify for a credit card, it’s wise to check cards that are specific to your level of creditworthiness. Everyone has to start somewhere, and there are now credit cards available for all levels of credit, including no/limited credit, bad credit (<640), good credit (640-720), and excellent credit (720+).
2. ATM Cards: Can Only Be Used at ATMs
This sounds like a no-brainer, but it really is important to realize that this type of card has only one, very specific purpose. It’s used to take out cash, and nothing more!
- Since the ATM card needs to access cash, it’s tied directly to the checking or savings account at your banking institution. If you don’t have an ATM card yet, it’s wise to ask for one.
- There’s no way to “float” funds with this type of card. Money is debited in real-time the moment you access the cash.
- Not a fan of fees? Unfortunately, most cash withdrawals will come with a cost. Sometimes, you can actually incur two fees: one from your financial institution and one from the owner of the ATM machine (if they are not the same).
A debit card can also be used as an ATM card, which we’ll explain in greater detail in the next key difference:
3. Debit Cards: Can Be Used Anywhere, with a Deposit
You can enjoy the convenience of paying with a credit card, even if you don’t have access to an actual line of credit like with a credit card, by using a debit card. Here are some important facts to know about debit cards:
- You’ll need your PIN (Personalized Identification Number) to complete your purchase. This is usually a 4-digit code that you want to make sure to memorize — and don’t ever write it anywhere on your debit card.
- Debit cards are tied to checking accounts, and you’ll see your funds deducted immediately upon making the purchase.
- If you don’t have enough cash in your account to cover your purchase, one of two things may happen. Depending on what authorization you’ve given your bank, you may be approved for a purchase to go through, which will be subject to the bank’s discretion and overdraft fees. If you do not have authorization for these purchases to be approved, expect the cashier to let you know that your card has been declined. Another option is to link your card to a checking account that has a savings account for overdraft protection. This may still result in fees, but will guarantee purchases go through, as long as there’s enough in your savings account to roll over.
- Sometimes, retailers will even allow you to ask for cash back on top of your purchase amount. Check with your bank before doing this, however, as some charge additional fees or will even categorize the purchase as an ATM transaction (resulting in even more fees!)
- Did you know that you may be able to run your card as a “credit” transaction? By skipping the PIN and running it as credit, you will need to sign for purchases, and charges could take a few days to go through. (This is only available on cards with the Visa or MasterCard logos.)
Though you can run your debit card as credit, you are still using your own money to pay for the purchase, unlike a credit card where you’re using the bank-issued line of credit.
How to Determine Which is Right for You
Deciding whether to get a credit, ATM, or debit card is a very personal decision that will be made by looking at your own needs for purchases. If you will simply need to take cash from your own account, an ATM card will likely do. Flexibility with purchases at most retailers will require at least a debit card. For those who need access to additional funds, credit cards are the only way to go. As each has its own perks – and responsibilities – it’s best to be honest about what you want, but also what you can handle.