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Cash cards vs debit cards explained

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Rhiannon Philps

Content Writer

person paying for goods using their bank card on the reader

At a glance

  • Cash cards can typically only be used to withdraw cash from ATMs.
  • Debit cards offer more services and can be used to pay retailers directly.
  • Both options have pros and cons, depending on your requirements.

Current account providers usually offer a debit card with most of their standard accounts. However, basic current accounts and some children’s accounts may come with a cash card instead.

A cash card is more restrictive than a debit card, but it can still be a useful option for some people.

What is a cash card?

A cash card, sometimes called an ATM card, allows you to withdraw money from your account at an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM), your bank’s branch and the Post Office. You will have a 4-digit PIN which you’ll need to input whenever you use your card.

You may also be able to use a cash card to deposit money into your account.

These cards are not contactless and you won’t normally be able to use these cards to pay for goods and services in-store or online, unlike debit cards, credit cards and some prepaid cards.

Cash cards can be offered with a range of accounts, including basic bank accounts, children’s bank accounts and even some savings accounts. Some providers may allow you to choose between a standard debit card or a cash card, depending on your preferences.

Cash card: Pros and Cons

  • It can be useful if you want to control and keep track of your spending and think a debit card could tempt you to overspend.
  • You can use them to withdraw cash from ATMs, bank branches and the Post Office.
  • Parents and guardians may prefer their child to have a cash card instead of a debit card so they can monitor their spending more closely.
  • You can’t use a cash card to make payments directly.
  • They are very limited and don’t offer as many features and services as a debit card.

What is a debit card?

A debit card is a type of payment card that is linked to a current account.
You can typically use these cards to make payments in-store, online and over the phone, as well as withdrawing cash from an ATM.

While debit cards come with a PIN that you can input when you withdraw cash or make payments, most cards are now contactless which means you can pay with a quick tap of your card. You may also be able to link your card to a mobile payment service such as Apple Pay or Google Pay so you can pay with your phone instead.

Purchases made with a debit card are protected by the chargeback scheme. This scheme allows you to claim a refund from your card provider (Visa, Mastercard, American Express) if something you’ve purchased is faulty or doesn’t arrive and you’re unable to get a refund from the company you purchased from directly.

Debit card: Pros and Cons

  • You can use them to pay in-store, online and over the phone.
  • The chargeback scheme offers some protection on debit card purchases.
  • You can use them to withdraw cash.
  • Most debit cards allow contactless payments and payments via your mobile phone.
  • You need to be careful you don’t use your card to spend more than your available balance.
  • It can be easy to lose track of how much you spend with a debit card.
  • You need to be vigilant to make sure your card isn’t stolen, as contactless payments can make it easier for someone to take money from your account.

Differences between cash cards and debit cards

  Cash cards Debit cards
Cash withdrawals Yes Yes
Available with children's accounts Yes Yes
Make payments in-store and online No Yes
Contactless No Yes
Use abroad Some (withdrawals only, fees may apply) Yes (fees may apply)

What types of debit cards are available in the UK?

In the UK, the main brands of debit card are Visa and Mastercard. As you would expect, payments with a Visa Debit card are processed on Visa’s payment network, while payments with a Debit Mastercard are processed on Mastercard’s network.

Banks decide whether a card is a Visa Debit or a Debit Mastercard; you won’t normally be able to choose.

It shouldn’t make much difference whether you have a Visa Debit or a Debit Mastercard as both card types are accepted in most places. While there are some variations between the brands, these are unlikely to affect you on a day-to-day basis.

Maestro used to be a brand of debit card that was issued by Mastercard. However, from 1 July 2023, Mastercard has no longer issued new Maestro cards.

Can I use my card abroad?

You can use most debit cards abroad but, depending on the provider, this could be an expensive way to spend. As a result, you should always check what fees may apply when using a card abroad. Some of the charges to look out for include:

  • Conversion charges: your bank may charge you for converting your money to the local currency when you withdraw cash abroad or make a purchase. When you pay with your debit card abroad, say you want to pay in the local currency and not in sterling as paying in sterling is likely to cost you more.
  • Transaction charges: your bank may charge you for handling the transaction when you make a purchase abroad. They may charge a percentage of the payment, and some may also charge a flat fee.
  • Withdrawal charges: your bank may charge for withdrawals and the ATM you use may also charge you a fee.

You may also be able to use a cash card to withdraw money from an ATM while you’re abroad, although this will depend on the provider. Bear in mind that withdrawing cash abroad can be expensive so make sure you check for any fees your bank or the ATM provider may charge.

There are debit cards available that don’t charge you for spending abroad, as well as specialist prepaid cards and travel credit cards, so it’s worth comparing options before you travel.

Disclaimer: This information is intended solely to provide guidance and is not financial advice. Moneyfacts will not be liable for any loss arising from your use or reliance on this information. If you are in any doubt, Moneyfacts recommends you obtain independent financial advice. will never contact you by phone to sell you any financial product. Any calls like this are not from Moneyfacts. Emails sent by will always be from Be ScamSmart. will never contact you by phone to sell you any financial product. Any calls like this are not from Moneyfacts. Emails sent by will always be from Be ScamSmart.