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Debit-card spending limits: How to increase yours

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Regardless of how much cash is in your checking account, a daily debit-card limit can cause a transaction to be declined.

Peter Gwaltney, president and CEO at the North Carolina Bankers Association, ran into a problem with daily debit-card limits while purchasing a new engine. He says there was plenty of money in his account, but the transaction was declined. So he called his bank.

“They raised the limit for that day to the amount that I asked for based on the transaction that I was anticipating,” Gwaltney says. “And everything worked fine.”

The daily debit-card limit is typically several thousand dollars, though it varies among banks. Those who regularly use their debit card and make large purchases from time to time may want to request a higher daily debit-card limit from their bank.

Why are there debit-card limits?

Debit-card limits help protect the account from fraudulent activity by preventing sudden, excessive purchases.

Keeping your daily debit-card limit at a level that is appropriate for your spending can help reduce the amount of money someone who’s stolen your debit card, or debit-card information, can spend in a day.

It’s also important to keep track of account activity, either by regularly checking up on the account online or signing up for transaction alerts.

How to increase your debit-card limit

1. Find out the limit that the bank sets

Account holders generally aren’t aware of their daily debit card limit. Credit card limits, or available credit, are usually known because they’re on a credit card statement or mobile app.

Unlike credit cards, whose limits can be easily found on bank statements, online or on a mobile app, finding the limit on a debit card takes a bit more leg work.

Some ways to check the daily limit on your debit card include calling your bank, visiting a branch or reading the account disclosure or agreement.

Certain banks consider secure messaging a safe way to disclose this information. Check with your bank for its policy.

Finding out your limit before a large purchase can save time and possibly prevent a declined transaction.

2. Ask your bank for a daily limit change

Contact your bank to see if it would increase your daily debit-card limit on signature and PIN-based purchases.

“Temporary debit-card purchase limit requests can be made at any of our branch locations or via our customer care center, but are not automatic,” says Sean Baker, executive vice president, retail banking at First National Bank of Omaha. “Raising the limit on the plastic will not guarantee the charge will be approved.”

There are separate debit-card and ATM withdrawal limits, so if being able to withdraw large sums of cash is a concern, ask to change the daily ATM withdrawal limit, too.

3. Consider how long you want this change for

Your bank may ask whether you want the limit change to be permanent or temporary. A one-time purchase, such as an engine or an engagement ring, might not warrant a permanent daily debit-card limit increase.

Gwaltney says when he called from the repair shop, the bank asked him how long he needed his new limit. He requested the limit to be increased only for that day.

Some consumers, however, may want a daily limit decrease.

A parent who shares a joint checking account with a student, for example, may ask the bank to decrease the student’s daily debit-card limit to teach them how not to overspend. It could also help limit the chances of incurring overdraft fees.

Examples of default debit card limits at well-known banks

These are the default daily limits at some well-known banks. It may be possible to increase these limits by contacting the bank.

  • Chase: $3,000 purchase limit on the Chase Debit Card.
  • Discover Bank: Customers with a Discover Bank account that’s been open for at least 30 days have a limit of either the lesser available account balance or $5,000. Otherwise, the limit is the lesser of the available balance or $2,500.
  • Capital One: Customers are limited to $5,000 a day in total card purchases and withdrawals. This limit includes ATM withdrawals, cash advances and PIN-based and signature purchases.
  • Citibank: With most Citibank checking accounts, customers are limited to $5,000 a day in total debit-card purchases. Exceptions are Citigold and Citi Priority accounts, which have a daily limit of $10,000 in debit purchases.

Consider a credit card for larger purchases

A debit-card purchase requires that you have the money in your checking account at the time of purchase. Not having that money available could result in an overdraft fee or the transaction being declined.

A credit card could be an option for those looking to pay off a larger purchase in increments, though credit cards have limits, too. There are also balance transfer credit cards, which allow customers to pay off debt faster by transferring other credit card balances to a new account with zero interest initially.

–Matthew Goldberg contributed to a previous version of this article.

Written by
René Bennett
Banking writer
René Bennett is a writer for Bankrate, reporting on banking products and personal finance.
Edited by
Wealth editor