Check Cards, Bank Cards, ATM Cards… What’s the Difference?

Ever wonder what the difference between a “check card” and an “ATM card” is? Confused by the term “bank card“? You are not alone. Lots of people use these terms interchangeably to refer to different kinds of debit cards or ATM access cards. This short guide will help you understand the different terms, and know what kind you have (or need).

ATM Cards

ATM cards are plastic cards issued by a bank, credit union or other financial institution that can be used at an ATM for deposits, withdrawals, account information, and other types of transactions, often through banking networks (such as the STAR network, Cirrus, Maestro, Interlink, and dozens of others). When you open a checking or savings account at most banks, you will typically be given the option to receive either an ATM card or a debit card. An ATM card will allow you to access your bank account at ATM machines – it will not necessarily allow you to make purchases at point of sale locations. For example, with a simple ATM card, you won’t be able to buy groceries at a local supermarket. You will, however, be able to withdraw money from your bank account using your bank’s ATM machines (and, using other bank or stand-alone ATM machines, often for a fee).

You can tell if your plastic card is an ATM-only card if it does not have a Visa or MasterCard logo on it.

Check Cards

The term “check cards” is used to refer to an ATM card that can also be used to make purchases at merchant locations. The term “check card” originated with Visa, when they introduced their “Visa Check Card” in the 1980’s. A check card is the same as a “debit card“. Here’s how Visa describes their check card:

A Visa Debit card (also known as a Visa Check card) works like a check, only better. When you make purchases, the amount is deducted directly from your checking account. But you also enjoy added convenience and security protections.

You can tell if your plastic card is a “check card” or “debit card” if you see the logos of Visa or MasterCard on the face of the card. A check card can be used to access funds in your bank account (just like an ATM card). It can also be used to purchase goods or services at any merchant that accepts Visa or MasterCard (just like a credit card, only using cash you have rather than credit).

Bank Cards

The term “bank cards” is an uncommon term which some people use to refer to both ATM cards and check cards. There’s no standardized meaning, and it is usually safer to properly call a card either an ATM card (one that only allows you to access funds at an ATM) or a debit card or check card (one that allows you to access funds at an ATM and also allows you to make purchases at merchants).

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