The UK government's Money Advice Service describes using a debit card as being the equivalent of withdrawing cash from an ATM and handing it to the vendor you're making a purchase from. Unlike a credit card, the money you spend on a debit card is usually yours, but you may find the amount you can put through in any one transaction can vary from your actual balance.
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Theoretically, you should be able to spend however much money is in the account your debit card is linked to in any one transaction and not a penny more, provided you don't have an agreed overdraft facility. In reality, there are circumstances where you can spend more on your debit card than you actually have, or find a transaction being declined despite the fact you have sufficient funds to cover it in your account.
The majority of banks allow current account holders to spend more on their debit cards than they have in their accounts. If you use your debit card to spend more money than you have without arranging an overdraft with your bank, you'll be hit with sky-high interest charges and unauthorised overdraft fees. The amount banks will let customers overspend by varies. Depending on the bank you use, the type of account you have and how well you manage your finances, you may be able to build up an unauthorised overdraft of hundreds of pounds, a few quid or nothing at all. Unauthorised overdrafts should be avoided at all cost. On a compounded basis, they often work out more expensive than pay day loans.
Banks and building societies monitor what their customers spend to help them identify any suspicious transactions that may be fraudulent. Any large purchases you make that are outside your typical spending patterns may be blocked as a consequence of this, irrespective of whether you have enough money in your account to cover them. If this happens to you, contact your bank or building society's customer service line to get the block lifted. In most cases, you'll be able to reattempt the transaction immediately.
If you're close to running up an unauthorised overdraft, look at your current cleared balance as opposed to your balance total when checking your account. Your current cleared balance includes transactions you've made using your debit card that have yet to clear onto your account. Contact your bank or building society to set up an authorised overdraft it it looks like you're going to spend more than you have. You'll have to pay interest on what you borrow, but this will work out a lot cheaper than going into the red without permission.
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