By UnigoAs a college student, your schedule is filled to the brim with late-night library sessions, essay deadlines, and social events. In between all of these obligations, you likely make a series of mini-purchases throughout the day. Think of your trips to your campus bookstore for an extra notebook, that second cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop, the late-night slice of pizza. These are all small, but important moments of your daily life as a college student and ones that should be enjoyed without the thought of your financial security ruining the fun. Yet many college students rely on the use of their debit cards to make purchases throughout their busy days without knowing much about debit card fraud protection. Using a debit card may seem like the best option for making sure you only spend what you have in your account and for managing a tight student budget, but it’s possible to achieve your financial goals in a safer way. In fact, a debit card may be way riskier than having a credit card or using cash, and all that risk may make it difficult to keep your mind on your studies and your money in the bank. Using my debit card isn’t safe? Simple answer: No. While the idea of a debit card might seem like the most sensible option as debit cards withdraw directly from your bank account, this is precisely why your debit card may be putting you at risk. Were you to make an online purchase on an insecure computer, give your information out over the phone in public, leave a billing statement unredacted in your recycling bin or, worse, lose your debit card while buying that latte, your bank account can be quickly drained by predators. A debit card is essentially like cash. You MUST notice any fraudulent charges from your account within 24-48 hours (and, let’s be real, most students don’t have time to check their balances when there are midterms to study for). Otherwise, you will be held responsible not only for the money that’s been stolen, as in your bank won’t reimburse you, but also for any auto-paying bills linked to your account or other purchases you made thinking you had enough money in your account. This might incur you an overdraft fee, putting you further into debt. By having your money taken without your knowledge, you might suffer other consequences like not being able to pay rent on time—which could damage your credit score or risk your ability to rent a home in the future. So, how do I keep myself protected? There are several precautions you can take to help ensure your debit card is not being misused. The most effective one is to check your account history daily and verify all of the withdrawals were made by you. If you see any suspicious activity, it is essential to report this to your bank immediately. Another is to always make sure you are in private when discussing your account numbers and are always on a secure computer and network when entering your debit card information online. You might also make it a habit to destroy and properly dispose of private financial paperwork. Lastly, keep your debit card in a safe and secure location. While you might be switching from purse to backpack to gym bag all in one day to keep up with your busy collegiate lifestyle, always check that you have your debit card where only you can find it. Are there any other options for making purchases as a college student? While the ideas mentioned above are useful to making sure your debit card information is safe, the best option for most college students might be just to get rid of your debit card altogether and apply for a small credit card. You can still keep a budget while using a credit card, but you open yourself up to more options to deal with damages in the event that your credit card information would be lost or stolen. Since credit cards don’t immediately withdraw money from your account and, instead, have monthly billing cycles, you have better luck at catching a fraudulent charge before any money is taken from your account and for disputing claims with credit card companies. Most credit card companies also employ their own security measures that will notify you if they see any suspicious activity on your card. By making purchases on your credit card and reviewing them at the end of the month, you can be sure you have enough money in your bank account to cover critical expenses like rent. That way, if you find yourself in a tricky financial situation, you know you’ll be covered. Having a credit card is not just a smart way to protect your money and peace of mind, but using one regularly and making payments on time will help you build up a solid credit score that will be necessary for buying or renting a home, taking out a loan, or securing a job.