How to Tell If Your Debit Card Is Activated

Most major banks allow you to activate your debit card at an ATM.
Image Credit: Poike/iStock/GettyImages

There are few things more embarrassing than having a restaurant server or store cashier tell you, "I'm sorry, but your card's been declined." Using your debit card before you've activated it is one way you can end up in this situation, even though your card is valid and you've got plenty of money in your account.

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Knowing how to activate a new debit card and confirm that it's ready to use will help you make any purchases you need without an awkward rejection.

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Read More​: Why Do Banks Deactivate Debit Cards?

Call the Card Issuer

After you receive your card in the mail, you can activate it using your phone. New debit and credit cards usually come with a sticker on them with a toll-free number to call for activation. If you don't still have the sticker on your card, call the number on the back of the card.

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Credit card companies and debit card issuers often allow you to activate your card by simply calling the number and entering your card number. You'll get a message such as, "Thank you, your card has been activated and is now ready to use." Make sure to call from the phone number you used to set up your account for quicker verification.

If you get a live operator, you might need to confirm your card number, PIN, CVV number on the back, expiration date, zip code or last four digits of your Social Security. It's rare that you'll need to give this much information, or even need to talk to a human.

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Read More​: How to Change Debit Card Information

Log in to the Issuer’s Website

If you're getting a new card because you've just opened a new account, navigate to the website where you'll access your account online and follow the steps to set up your online access. You'll often need information such as your Social Security number, mailing address, PIN number or CVV number on the back of the card.

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Once you've completed the process, you should have immediate access to your card. You might need to log in using the new user ID and password you've created. Look for an icon near the top right of the web page for what looks like a small magnifying glass or the word "Search" and type in "activate debit card." Follow the instructions for activating your card.

Doing an online web search for "Activate my (issuer name) debit card" should help you find a direct link to the instructions for activating your specific card. Here's an example for Bank of America. You'll find similar directions for U.S. Bank.

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In addition to visiting the card issuer's website, you can look for their mobile banking app in the Apple Store or at Google Play. Download the app to your phone, set it up, then follow the directions for activating your card.

Read More​: What Is Debit Card Preauthorization?

Use an ATM

You can also activate your card at an ATM. The first time you use your card at an ATM, it's activated. If you don't want to withdraw or deposit any money, select "Check balance." Once you've completed your first use of an ATM with your card, it will be activated. To make sure it worked, log out, then log in again and begin a withdrawal.

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If, after you enter your PIN number, you're allowed to proceed with making a deposit, you can cancel the transaction.

Make a Purchase

In some cases, making your first purchase activates your card. This is often when you make a purchase that requires you to use your PIN or you swipe a card reader that asks for your PIN. As soon as the cashier rings up your purchase and you enter your PIN, you'll know if your card works.

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You might not want to use this method when you're making a complicated purchase (like paying for 30 grocery items) and there's a long line behind you. Try using your card online to make a purchase to see if that works.

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