Why you should never lend your debit card to a friend

To Her Credit columnist Sally Herigstad
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also wrote for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs.

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Question Dear To Her Credit,
I have a friend of mine who asked me for my debit card. She wants to use it because she wants to add funds to an account to talk to an inmate she’s not supposed to talk to according to the law. My question is, can I get in trouble for letting her borrow the card? – Lorraine

Answer

Dear Lorraine,
Yes, you can get in trouble. You can get in trouble letting someone use your debit card even without the criminal justice system being involved. Here are a few things that can go wrong:

  • Your friend can lose your card. If she does, she’ll be embarrassed – perhaps too embarrassed to tell you right away so you can cancel the card.

  • She can neglect to pay you back for the phone calls. Even a small amount can be frustrating when she assumes you can wait to get repaid. With a debit card, the money comes out right now. It’s not like a credit card that gives you until next month to pay. A few lengthy phone calls, and you may not have enough money in your bank account to buy gas or groceries.

  • She can have an “emergency” and use your card for something else. It happens all the time. Her car breaks down, her cat needs surgery, or the inmate needs legal fees paid. Your debit card is in her hand. A friend who is willing to borrow your card to break the law is a friend who could use your card without hesitation whenever she can rationalize doing so.

  • You could get in trouble for facilitating a conversation that is against the law. I don’t know why she and the inmate are not allowed to talk, but you are better off respecting the law. Inmates can be prohibited from calling people who work in the correctional system or the victims of their crimes, for example. You should stay far, far away from getting yourself involved in such a situation, no matter how sorry you feel for your friend.

  • You’ll never really know if the card will truly be used just one time. With a debit card, she could take a picture of your card with her phone, or write down the numbers, and stash it away. Two months from now, she could see something online that she needs and whip out your information again.

  • If your card is lost, misused or anything else goes wrong, your finances and good name can suffer. For example, if she uses your card for more money than you expected, you may not be able to pay your rent, or your rent check could bounce. You may fall behind on your car payments. Your credit report is trashed, your shelter and transportation are jeopardized, and you pay late charges and other fees everywhere. It could take years to recover from such a disaster.

  • If you give her permission to use the card and she misuses it, the bank may choose not step in to help if you knowingly gave her your card to use.

I would never, ever ask my friends or relatives if I could borrow their debit cards. None of them have ever asked me for such a favor. It’s not that we don’t trust each other; we know we do. (In fact, people who demand you trust them are often the last people you should trust.) Passing debit cards around is just a bad idea. Save yourself the grief and worry, and keep your debit card in your control at all times.

See related: Debit card fraud can leave you in a lurch, Is sharing your credit card ever OK?

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Updated: 04-26-2018