How to Use a Debit Card Without a PIN

Cole Mayer
A woman in a plaid shirt looks confused as she tries to pay a woman at a grocery store cash register, who holds the first woman’s debit card.

It is possible to make purchases using debit without a personal identification number (PIN), but getting cash back or making withdrawals isn’t as easy. This enables you to purchase items online without the need for a PIN,] or to make a purchase with a card you have forgotten the PIN to. Smaller purchases, generally under $25, might also be exempt from requiring a PIN.

However, both situations can also open you up to fraud if your card number is stolen. If you have forgotten the PIN to your debit card but need to use the card, you still have a few options. 

Table of Contents

Choose to Process Your Card as a Credit Card

When using a debit card, the money is immediately taken out of the associated account. This is different from a credit card, which makes the purchase on credit, a type of loan that you will have to pay back at a later date with interest. In the U.S., a debit card requires a PIN, while — unlike most of the rest of the world — a credit card requires a signature.

It’s possible to process a debit card as a credit card when you are checking out in a retail store, requiring a signature instead of the normal PIN, by selecting “credit” instead of “debit.” The merchant will pay a fee either way, capped as part of the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act, so it makes little difference to them, unless the debit card issuer has less than $10 billion in assets. In that case, they are exempt and may have a varying fee, which is usually more if you are running the debit card as credit. 

If you choose this route, you will have the security of using a credit card, often with zero liability if there are fraudulent charges as a result of the card’s use, but none of the other benefits. Unless your debit card already racks up rewards for you, you will not earn any rewards.

Even though it is processed as a credit card, you can’t use a debit card to build credit. It’s also important to note that the money will be withdrawn from your account, just like a normal debit transaction, but will take a few extra days. 

Make Purchases Online or Over the Phone

When you make a purchase online or over the phone, instead of debit or credit, a general “card” option is available. Simply enter your debit card number, expiration and CVV (the number on the back of the card, typically three or four digits.)

This may sound convenient, but if your card is stolen — or even just the numbers — a fraudster could go on a shopping spree with your account. While having the physical card helps, it’s not needed, either by you making a legitimate purchase or by someone who stole your card. 

The recent scale of breaches and attacks on card processors and merchants alike means that you will want to look over any account for just this reason. If, for example, a company experiences a breach and someone has purchased your debit card information on the dark web, it could only be a matter of time before they try to rack up charges on the card. 

When Prompted for Your PIN, Just Hit “Enter”

Many point-of-sale machines don’t actually require you to enter a PIN when prompted. Instead, if you just hit the green “Enter” button, the machine will default to running your card as credit. You will have to sign for the purchase, as above, but you will not need to enter your PIN. 

How to Get Money Off a Debit Card Without a PIN

Generally speaking, you can’t get money from your debit card without the PIN. ATMs, banks, and retailers won’t usually allow you to make withdrawals or add “cash back” to a transaction without it. 

As discussed earlier, this does not mean your card can’t be stolen and used; it simply can’t be used to directly withdraw money from your account. It’s important to regularly check your bank statements to ensure your card has not been stolen — digitally or physically — and that a fraudster is not draining your account with purchases. 

There are definite benefits to running your debit card as credit — chiefly the ability to run it without a PIN. However, it also affords an extra layer of security, reducing your liability. Unfortunately, you can’t withdraw money from an ATM if you don’t have the PIN, and using a debit card as credit will not affect your credit score.

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