Here's What to Do if Your Debit Card Was Stolen

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  • If your debit card has gone missing, it pays to act fast, as you'll only be liable for $50 of spending if you report it within two days of the loss.
  • Ensure you monitor your bank account for unauthorized charges and update your auto-pay bill settings.
  • Consider using a credit card for everyday expenses instead, as they offer much better theft and fraud protections.

Don't panic, but contact your bank ASAP.

One of the worst feelings in the world is realizing you've lost track of a vital piece of your financial life. It could be your smartphone, your go-to credit card…or your debit card. Your debit card is a direct line to the bank accounts you have it linked to, and it doesn't come with the same level of robust protection as credit cards do.

Let's say you've just gotten home from a shopping trip, and in the course of putting away your purchases, you realize that your debit card is missing. What now?

Your debit card is AWOL, act fast!

Your first course of action should be making sure you haven't just misplaced the card. Check through your entire wallet to ensure you didn't accidentally put it in a different card slot than usual. Check your purse, if you carry one -- maybe it just fell out of the wallet. Check your pockets. Check your car. If you don't find it, take the following steps. Note that speed matters here.

1. Lock your card

When you lock your debit card, you'll basically be turning it off remotely, to prevent unauthorized withdrawals and purchases. You may be able to do this from your bank's mobile app or online banking portal, if you look under "Security" or "Card Settings." If you're sure the card was stolen and not just misplaced, you'll end up needing to cancel the card and have a new one issued, so proceed to step two.

2. Contact your bank

Time to call your bank's customer service number, where a friendly representative will cancel your debit card and arrange to have a new one sent to you. If you rely on your debit card for regular purchases, you may want to ask about having the process expedited (which may cost you extra, even if the replacement card itself is free). Even with a rush job, you're likely still going to have to wait a few days for your new card to come in the mail.

3. Send a follow-up email or letter to your bank

This is to create a paper trail, in case your account is compromised and the bank needs to investigate. Be sure to include the date and time of your original call to the bank about your missing debit card, and if you notice fraudulent charges on your account, include them here, too.

4. Monitor your account and credit

While everything is being sorted out with your bank, now is the time to monitor your account. This means signing into your online account or the bank's mobile app every day and looking for charges you didn't make. Really pay attention here, and document every charge that is suspect, even small ones -- a charge of just a dollar or two could be whoever stole your debit card testing the access to your account.

5. Update auto-pays

Finally, if you have your debit card set to auto-pay any of your bills, you need to double-check that none of those bills will be charged while you're waiting on your new card. If you have a bill due date coming up, be sure to pay it manually, and then you can set up the account with your new card when it arrives.

What if someone is using your card?

If your debit card was stolen, the speed at which you contact your bank has an impact on how much money you'll be on the hook for. If you notify your bank before any fraudulent charges are made, your liability will be $0. If you notify them within two days of the loss, it's $50. Definitely don't dawdle, as after two days (but less than 60 days), you'll be out $500. After 60 days? You could be out all the money in the accounts linked to that debit card.

For better fraud protection, consider using credit cards

While credit cards can be potentially dangerous in other ways (such as by enabling consumers to charge large balances they can't repay before incurring interest), they offer better fraud and theft protections than debit cards do. If your credit card went missing, the most you'd be liable for is $50, no matter how long it's been since the card was lost. And many card issuers offer $0 liability for theft. While it takes more discipline to use a credit card for your everyday expenses and then pay off the balance before interest accrues, having that extra layer of protection is worth it. Plus, many credit cards offer rewards or cash back on your spending, and they help you build your credit. All in all, credit cards offer some pretty sweet perks.

Losing a piece of your financial life is scary, but if you act fast, you can limit the damage that a lost or stolen debit card can do.

Our Research Expert

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