Suits Me Simplified: Banking 101

Discover the World of Virtual Debit Cards

Our helpful guide tells you everything you need to know about Virtual Debit Cards

Mobile phone payment icon in flat style design. Representing buying and paying using a virtual debit card.

For decades now, we have become familiar with using a plastic card to pay for items, whether it’s with a signature, a swipe, entering a PIN or, in recent years, a tap.

Debit cards and credit cards have been around so long now that it is hard to imagine life without them. However, the days of carrying a physical card around in your wallet may themselves be numbered. This is due to a rise in the use of virtual debit cards.

What’s a Virtual Debit Card?

A virtual debit card is one which is linked to your banking account but which is stored on your smartphone. Many of the major banks in the UK have debit cards which you can create virtual versions for on your mobile device. A virtual debit card will have a 16-digit number and expiry date on it just like your normal debit card.

You can store your virtual debit card in a digital wallet on your smartphone or link it to a mobile payment app such as Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Many fintech or so-called challenger banks, which exist purely in digital form, also offer virtual debit cards. Companies such as Monzo and Revolut offer you the chance to download their app, open a new account and get a virtual debit card all with the use of your phone.

How do I Use a Virtual Debit Card?

A virtual debit card can be used in much the same way as you use a physical contactless debit card. You can use it to pay for items in-store by holding it over the payment device. Any payment device which allows for contactless payments can receive payments from a virtual debit card.

When using your virtual debit card in this way, you will be limited to the maximum contactless spend, which is currently at £100. Some of the virtual cards which are offered by fintech banks may allow transactions beyond this.

You can also use a virtual debit card to pay for items online on your phone. If you have the details stored on your phone, you may have the option of creating an auto-fill for purchases that you make on your phone, although there will be added security measures in top of this.

Security Concerns Over Virtual Debit Cards

With greater convenience of use, virtual debit cards do come with a few security concerns. For a start, what if someone gets a hold of your phone and you have a few different cards stored on it? Most smartphones nowadays come with biometric security measures such as fingerprint and face recognition. That is just to unlock the phone in the first place. 

Some payment apps, such as Google Pay, may also require the same sort measures to access them or a PIN. This means that using the virtual debit card on your phone for contactless transactions will prove difficult for someone else.

When using your virtual debit card to pay for something online with your phone may also be a security concern. However, even with auto-fill, you may still be required to authorise the payment using a fingerprint, PIN or CSC code from your physical card.

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