How To Use a Debit Card for Online Payments—A Step-by-Step Guide

Ashley Ferraro, Consumer Operations
Jul 25, 2023
 • 
10
 Min Read

According to the 2022 Diary of Consumer Payment Choice (DCPC), debit and credit cards accounted for 57% of the total payments made by U.S. consumers, with the number of cash payments significantly decreasing.

While a debit card is arguably more convenient and practical than cash, some cardholders may not feel confident using it for online and remote transactions.

If you’re not sure how to use a debit card for online payments, this guide has the information you need. You will learn how:

  • Online debit card payments work
  • To pay online with a debit card
  • To protect your card and bank details from potential misuse when transacting online

Debit Card for Online Shopping—An Overview

Online debit card payments work the same way as in-store payments. The standard debit card—sometimes referred to as the ATM card—is linked to your checking account and contains information that directs a payment processor to deduct funds from a specific account. Non-standard debit cards[1] include:

  • Prepaid cards—These cards are not linked to a checking account but have preloaded funds used to complete payments.
  • Electronic benefits transfer (EBT) debit cards—These cards are issued by the government and allow cardholders to use their government benefits as a funding source for debit card payments.

Similar to a credit card, a debit card contains unique identifiers like a 16-digit card number, expiration date, and CVV code. The card number specifically helps the payment processor verify the card network, the banking or credit card service provider, and the associated account number. Once the verification is complete, the processor will extract funds from your account in real-time and deliver them to the merchant.

Since the card number is a significant part of completing any debit card transaction, the payment process typically requires sharing it with the merchant. In the case of most in-store transactions, the point-of-sale (POS) terminal automatically reads the required payment data from the card’s magnetic stripe or EMV microchip, and you typically have to enter a PIN or a signature to approve the transaction. But for online payments, you have to input the necessary payment information manually.

A close-up shot of a customer holding a payment card over a card reader

Source: Kampus Production

How To Use a Debit Card Online

Regardless of the website, the standard debit card payment process generally consists of three steps:

  1. Choosing your payment option
  2. Entering your debit card credentials
  3. Authenticating the payment

Choosing Your Payment Option

If you’re using a debit card online for a purchase, you may have to specifically select the card payment option on the checkout screen.

Online vendors may have multiple payment options (such as card payment, Apple Pay, or PayPal) and will ask you to select which method you want to use before proceeding to the payment gateway. If you are paying a utility bill, you may be asked to select either “debit card” or “credit card,” in which case you should select the former. 

Entering Your Debit Card Credentials

Once you’ve specified you’re paying with a debit card, the checkout screen will lead you to the payment gateway and ask you to enter the card credentials. You primarily have to provide the following information:

Debit Card Information Where To Find It
16-digit card number
Your debit card’s 16-digit number identifies the card and is printed or embossed on the front or back of the card. Be careful when entering the number as payment systems can detect incorrect data and decline the transaction.
Expiration date
Most vendors require the expiration date of the card to ensure the card is valid. The date can be typically found on the front of the card, toward the bottom-left, but some newer designs can have this piece of info placed on the back of the card.
Security code The security code can be referred to as the Card Verification Value (CVV) or Card Verification Code (CVC) and is typically found on the back of the card. Most CVVs are three digits long, but American Express cards have four-digit security codes[2].


Some vendors may ask you for additional details like the Cardholder Name or Zip Code.

Debit card credentials are required for completing online payments—if you cannot find them (for example, you lost or misplaced your card), consider contacting your bank and getting a replacement card.

An image of a smartphone next to a notepad and a Visa card

Source: Pixabay

Authenticating the Payment

After your card credentials go through, the payment portal may ask you to authenticate the transaction by providing a one-time password sent to your registered email address or phone number. Some vendors may require you to enter your complete billing address[3] as an additional verification step.

Once the transaction is successfully authenticated, the funds will be pulled from your checking account and transferred to the merchant to complete the purchase.

Can a Debit Card Be Used as a Credit Card Online?

Debit and credit cards have different processing requirements, and some merchants don’t accept debit card payments for their business.

Many merchant POS terminals offer cardholders the option to run their debit card as credit[4] at the time of checkout. This is often used as a means to bypass the PIN.

Because of the long processing cycle between the participating banks, the transaction takes up to three days to settle. Running your debit card as  credit for making the transaction does not mean you’re performing a credit card transaction and won’t help you build credit.

Should You Leave Debit Card or Credit Card Data on Merchant Websites?

Sharing your card credentials with a merchant is necessary when completing online payments. Unfortunately, exposing your payment data to vendors comes with significant risks, such as:

  • Data breaches—Hackers often manage to bypass website security and access customers’ personal and financial data. The stolen information can be used for crimes like cyber fraud and identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, there were over 5.1 million reports of fraud and identity thefts in 2022. Many of these cases were related to online shopping and payment card fraud. Having your debit card stolen can be particularly frustrating and painful since the card is linked to your checking account and can lead to the complete drainage of funds.
  • Overcharges—Users typically have to enter their card data when signing up for a free trial or subscription service, which can lead to the merchant sneaking in additional charges and hidden fees down the line.

Luckily, these risks can be significantly reduced with the help of virtual cards, one of the fastest-growing payment methods.

A close-up shot of a virtual card phone payment at a contactless terminal

Source: Nathan Dumlao

A virtual card is a digitally created temporary card number with its own expiration date and CVV code. It is linked to your actual card or bank account but serves to mask your real financial information from the merchant, preventing its exposure in the case of a data breach.

Virtual cards may offer multiple features besides security. Virtual card service providers, like Privacy, offer customizable spending limits and real-time alerts that help you control your funds.

Keep Your Debit Card Data Protected—Start Using Privacy Virtual Cards

To increase the safety of your online payments, sign up for a Privacy Virtual Card. Privacy connects the virtual card to your debit card or bank account and enables you to complete transactions without divulging your real card or bank information to the merchant.

Privacy Cards (issued within Mastercard® or Visa® networks) are easy to use and function like a regular credit or debit card during the checkout process.

Privacy enables quick and seamless checkouts with the help of its Google Chrome and Firefox browser extensions. The extensions autofill card credentials into the payment fields for you, so you don’t have to memorize the card number or look for your wallet to complete the purchase.

Privacy (accredited by Better Business Bureau®) is one of the leading providers of virtual cards in the U.S. and offers its service to U.S. residents over 18 with a bank account or a debit card. If you’re looking for a mobile-friendly solution, download Privacy’s app from Google Play or App Store.

What Can You Do With Your Privacy Card?

Privacy users get access to features that enable greater control over transactions and card management. With Privacy, you can:

Set Up Merchant-Locked and Single-Use Cards A Privacy Merchant-Locked Card locks to the first merchant it’s used at, preventing a potential hacker from using the virtual card number elsewhere. You can also choose a Single-Use Virtual Card that closes after a single transaction, preventing potential misuse by an unauthorized user.
Specify Spend Limits
You can set a spending limit on your Privacy Card to help you stick to a budget and prevent overcharges. This feature can be useful for parents who want to help their children develop healthy spending habits—you can share the card with close family members but remain in full control of the settings.
Manage Subscriptions With Ease You can close, pause, and unpause Privacy Cards without affecting your real card or bank account. If you notice any suspicious activity on your virtual card or want to prevent charges from an unwanted subscription service, close the card, and Privacy will decline further charges. Note that you still need to contact the merchant to cancel the subscription.
Stay in Control With Real-Time Alerts You can receive real-time push notifications and email alerts when your virtual card has been used or declined, enabling you to monitor your transactions regularly. The platform also has an efficient fraud detection system to minimize the risk of unauthorized transactions.


Privacy offers free integration with 1Password, which helps users manage their passwords and financial data from a secure and centralized dashboard.

A black smartphone on a yellow background displaying a lock symbol

Source: Franck

Request a Privacy Card in Four Easy Steps

Follow these steps to request a Privacy Virtual Card:

  1. Visit the registration page
  2. Add mandatory KYC data
  3. Link your debit card (or bank account)
  4. Request and create Privacy Virtual Cards

The Personal plan currently allows you to set up 12 new virtual cards every month that are free to use for domestic transactions. Go for the Pro ($10/month) or Premium ($25/month) plan to:

  • Generate more cards (up to 60)
  • Get cashback on eligible transactions (totaling up to $4,500 a month)
  • Enjoy priority support

References

[1] Emily Africa. supermoney. https://www.supermoney.com/how-to-swipe-card/, August 25, 2022
[2] Sally McMullen. Finder. https://www.finder.com/credit-card-ccv-cvc-number, February 2, 2021
[3] Huntington. https://www.huntington.com/learn/checking-basics/how-to-use-debit-card, sourced June 2023
[4] Beverly Harzog. U.S. News. https://money.usnews.com/credit-cards/articles/can-a-debit-card-be-used-as-a-credit-card, May 26, 2021

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