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Poll Reveals What You Don’t Know About Debit Cards Can Hurt You

Poll Reveals What You Don’t Know About Debit Cards Can Hurt You

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This article was last updated Sep 07, 2017. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

Do you think debit cards offer as many protections as credit cards? If you are a millennial, there’s a good chance you do.

In fact, debit cards don’t offer the same consumer protections as credit cards, with consumers liable from $50 to the entire loss if unauthorized debit charges are made, compared to $0 liability from most major credit cards. Millennials are more likely (69%) than boomers and older Americans (49%) to believe debit cards are as safe or safer to use than a credit card, a new CompareCards.com survey shows.

The online poll of 1,000 American adults conducted August 2-9, 2017 found widespread misperceptions around the protections on debit cards.

 Key Insights

  • Sixty-six percent of Americans think debit cards are as safe or safer than credit cards for payments.
  • Over half of people (56%) who use debit cards most often for everyday purchases believe debit cards offer the same protection as credit cards.
  • People trust cash the most (36%) for everyday purchases outside the house, yet 38% people carry less than $20.
  • Most Americans (88%) have not tried Apple Pay or Samsung Pay.

The age and knowledge gap

The youngest millennials are not as aware of the differences between credit and debit card protections as older users.

  • Only 27% of the youngest millennials (18-24) said credit cards were the safest way to pay. That compares to the oldest boomers, (65+) who were most aware that credit cards are a safer way to pay at 56%.

“I am surprised that consumers are not informed that they are far more protected when using a credit card,” says Mari J. Frank, attorney and privacy and identify theft expert from Laguna Niguel, California. Frank is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Recovering from Identity Theft.

“With a credit card, they see the statement first and can identify fraud before they pay. But, with a debit card, when fraud occurs, the money is siphoned from their account before they know of it,” Frank says.

Consumer usage reflects the lack of awareness or concern about unauthorized charges. Debit cards accounted for 69.5 billion transactions in 2015, over 2x the number of credit card transactions (33.8 billion), according to the 2016 Federal Reserve Payments Study. Debit card usage is still growing, with an 8% annual growth rate from 2012 to 2015.

Read: Best Credit Cards for Beginners

Most credit cards offer $0 liability

These days, most credit card issuers offer $0 fraud liability, which reduces your exposure to zero. That is in addition to the legal protections given to credit card users. The Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability to $50 for any unauthorized use of a credit card. If you report the loss of your credit card prior to unauthorized charges, you are not responsible for any charges.

“One difference between a credit card and a debit card is that if there’s an unauthorized charge on your credit card, you just get a little sting. It’s a hassle to straighten out. But, no money is taken from you,” says Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com

Debit cards are a different animal. If your debit card is lost or stolen, the maximum liability on fraudulent charges depends on how long it takes for you to report it to your bank. You could be liable from $50 to possibly your entire bank account.

“If someone gets ahold of your debit card information, the second they use it, depending on the nature of the transaction, your bank account will be drained. And in some cases, you can kiss that money goodbye; you got scorched. More than ever, crooks are using others’ debit card data and sucking dry their bank accounts via ATMs—in an instant,” Siciliano says.

Here’s What Debit Card Users Can Lose

If you report: Your maximum loss:
Before any unauthorized charges are made. $0
Within 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft. $50


More than 2 business days after you learn about the loss or theft but less than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you.  


More than 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you. All the money taken from your ATM/debit card account, and possibly more; for example, money in accounts linked to your debit account.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Other CompareCards findings

The survey data also revealed the following insights:

Low adoption of pay with phone technology

  • A majority or 88% of Americans have not tried Apple Pay or Samsung Pay.
  • The youngest millennials, or those aged 18-24 had tried Apple Pay or Samsung Pay at a slightly higher rate of 19% versus 7% of boomers who are 65 or older.

Why are people slow to adopt these new payment methods? The majority (47%) said there is nothing wrong with the way they pay now, while 25% said they “don’t trust it’s safe” and 11% said it was a hassle to set up.

People trust cash, but don’t carry much

American trust cash the most (36%), the survey found. Millennials trusted cash the most at 41%, while boomers and older Americans trusted cash the least at 32%. All ages trusted cash and debit cards equally at 27%. Only five percent trusted checks the most.

Despite a high level of trust in cash, Americans carry little:

  • A full 38% carried less than $20 in cash.
  • Around 1 in 4 (26%) carried between $20-49.
  • Only 9% carried between $50-$99.
  • Millennials aged 18-34 carried less cash than boomers. Millennials (48%) carried less than $20, versus boomers 65+ who carried less than $20 (30%). Boomers carried more cash (35%) carried between $20-$49. Only 25% of millennials carried between $20-$49.

People’s concerns when deciding how to pay

All age groups cite identity theft as their biggest concern when they decide how to pay, the survey found. This is not a surprise as identify fraud soared 16% to hit a record high in 2016, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

“Boomers have more fears about identity theft, our survey found. But, if hackers got hold of your credit card number, this is one of the easier issues to resolve as most credit card issuers now offer $0 fraud liability. That can be harder to deal with when paying with a debit card,” says Chris Mettler, president of CompareCards.

Income, regional and age differences:

  • Higher earners care more about purchase protection. Those with $200,000+ in household income are the most likely to cite coverage/protection after purchase as a major concern (17.1%), compared to 9% of all survey respondents.
  • Southerners worry most about identity theft. When it comes to deciding how to pay, 39% of Southerners, compared to 27% of Midwesterners, 29% of Northeasterners, and 25% of Westerners, indicate that identity theft is the most concerning to them.
  • Younger people fear overspending. The temptation to overspend is much more significant to the youngest survey respondents. While 18% of the total survey respondents pointed to that as a concern when deciding how to pay, that number jumped to 29% for 18-24 year olds.
  • Unexpected fees concern the young more than the old. In the youngest age groups, 17% of 18-24 year olds and 15% of 25-34 year olds listed unexpected fees as a major concern—more than double the percentage of 45-55 and 55-64 year olds.

Safety tips

Be diligent in monitoring your accounts. Read your credit card and bank statements.

  • Turn on any notification services offered by your financial institution. “This can go a long way towards early identification of improper use of your card data. The more quickly you report to your issuer, the easier the process will be, says Matt Herren, product manager for payment analytics at Computer Services Inc.
  • Use two-factor authentication when offered. This will “do a great deal to raise the bar for would be bad actors. More often than not, if they encounter a road block of any type, they will move on to lower hanging fruit,” Herren says.
  • Practice good cybersecurity basics. “While much of this is out of your control, there are definitely things that you can do which will make it worse. Longer passwords are better. The eight-character password standard is twenty years old,” Herren says.

Finally, have patience. “If your institution needs additional validation or wants to be extra diligent, understand that while it can be a slight inconvenience for you, they are doing it based on the very real threat of thousands of bad actors,” Herren says.

Survey Methodology

CompareCards commissioned Google Surveys to obtain online survey data with 1,000 adults living in the United States. Interviews were conducted online via Google Surveys in English during August 2-9, 2017. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.2 percentage points for 1,000 people.*

*Actual response rate per question varied from 799 to 1159 respondents.

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