If you’re a regular Clark Howard listener, you know the money expert has long loathed debit cards.
But the marketplace is evolving in 2023. Debit card offers are getting fancier with credit card-like benefits that– in some instances– include either cash back rewards or interest paid on your checking account balance.
So we decided to check back in with Clark on this subject to see if any of the market changes have caused his position to shift at all.
In this article, we’ll get Clark’s freshest take on debit cards and walk you through the risks associated with using them as an everyday spender.
Do Debit Cards Still Stink in 2023?
Debit card offers are getting better.
It’s not unusual to see a bank or credit union offering the chance to earn 1% back on all spending with their debit card. Others may tempt you to get their debit card by offering appealing interest rates on your checking account balance if you’re willing to swipe the card a certain amount of times each month.
Generally speaking, these things seem like a move in a positive direction for consumers. But it’s what hasn’t gotten better that still keeps Clark firmly against debit cards.
I recently asked him if the improved debit card conditions of 2023 were enough to sway his opinion.
Clark still holds strong in his belief that most people are giving up too much in consumer protections when they spend with a debit card.
“Anytime I put a hex on something like I have with debit cards, you always have to weigh what you might benefit from it versus the possibility of what could happen if something goes wrong,” Clark says. “So it’s a personal calculation. The hole in debit cards is the lack of consumer protections. If the benefits are good enough that you’re willing to take that chance … then go ahead.”
Clark likened his stance on debit cards in 2023 to his similarly strong opinion on gift cards. It’s not that there aren’t good deals to be had, it’s just that you need to understand the risks associated and then make a wise decision.
Why Clark Hates Debit Cards: A Refresher Course
If you’re a new listener or reader, you may not be familiar with Clark’s stance on debit cards.
And even if you have heard it before, you may not remember exactly what he’s talking about when he cites “a lack of consumer protections” as a reason to avoid them.
In either case, it’s probably best that we give you a refresher on why Clark says most consumers should use a credit card instead of a debit card for most purchases.
Here’s Clark talking about his concern with debit cards:
A summary of his biggest concerns:
- Differences in fraud protection: Debit cards are only required to offer fraud protection for a certain amount of time before you may be held responsible for the charges. It is on you to report the damages within two days before your liability could go up, and you could be responsible for the whole bill if you take more than 60 days. Meanwhile, credit card customers are not held responsible for unauthorized charges under the protection of federal law.
- Exposure of your personal funds: If someone steals your debit card to make purchases or accesses your checking account via an ATM machine, that money is out of your available funds immediately. And, depending on the details, it could be gone for good. Meanwhile, credit card charges are just that– charges to an account where no funds are taken at the time of transaction. This keeps your real money safe while you sort things out with the card issuer if a problem arises.
Clark’s One Big Exception on Debit Cards
Believe it or not, Clark does recommend using debit cards in some cases.
If you’re the type of consumer who has trouble controlling their spending or sticking to a budget, you might find that credit cards are a dangerous tool to have in your wallet.
Clark says these people may be best served by forgoing the consumer protections of a credit card to avoid debt.
“A debit card is a viable alternative for people who know they can’t handle a credit card and are going to harm themselves by spending money they don’t have,” Clark concedes. “But you still have to understand the lack of protections you have by using one.”
While the benefits offered with debit cards may be improving in 2023, the consumer protection issue remains unchanged.
Concern for the latter is enough for Clark to advise most consumers to not be swayed by the former.
Clark typically recommends finding a credit card that gives 2% cash back on every purchase you make. That way you enjoy top-shelf consumer protections and receive a solid reward for all of your purchases.
Do you carry a debit card in your wallet? Is it your everyday spender? We’d love to hear what you think about Clark’s latest thoughts on the topic in the Clark.com community.