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A debit card is a smart way to shop if you want to avoid using a credit card that will charge you interest if you don’t pay the balance in full each month. But because a debit card is directly tied to your bank account, you can lose a lot of protections.

Debit Card Hassles
While a debit card can be seen as safer than carrying cash, it can be a costly mistake if a thief steals it or your personal information to empty your bank account.

If your credit card is lost or stolen, or the information on it is stolen, you can’t lose more than $50 in unauthorized transactions, according to federal law. The same is true for an ATM or debit card if you report it within two business days, according to the Federal Trade Commission. You won’t be responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals if you report the card missing before someone uses it without your permission—that’s the good news. But it can get much worse with a debit or ATM card, the FTC says, if unauthorized use happens before you report it.

If you report a debit card loss within 60 days after your statement is mailed to you, you could lose up to $500 in unauthorized transfers. If you don’t report it within 60 days, you risk unlimited loss. You could lose all of the money in that account and the unused portion of your maximum line of credit for overdrafts. The thieves could overdraft your account if you wait more than two months to report it.

Once you report the loss or theft of your debit card to the issuer, you’re not responsible for additional unauthorized use.

Credit Card Protections
If your credit card or number is stolen, federal law offers a simple protection: You’re only liable for up to $50 in unauthorized transactions. That comes with one important caveat—you must report it to your credit card issuer.

Some issuers won’t charge you the $50 and are vigilant, alerting customers when they see potential credit card fraud.

The $50 limit after quickly reporting the loss of a credit or debit card is great if you do it within two days. But wait any longer than that and a debit card could be much costlier than a credit card if thieves get their hands on it.

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