You opened a checking account. You got your debit card and PIN in the mail. Now you can use your debit card as long as you have money in the bank and as long as you don’t spend more then you have. Right? Not quite. Let’s see what kind of trouble can be hidden there (it is assumed that at most times you know how much money you have in the bank and how to balance your account).
You think that if you put your paycheck in the bank (or if it is deposited directly in your account by your employer) you have immediate access to that money. That is wrong. Usually all transactions are processed at midnight. You would think that money will be debited (put into) to the account first and then the credits (what you paid) will go out. No, the opposite is right. Bank will first take money out of your account applying all fines and charges and only after that it will deposit money into your account taking out all fines and charges. So in the morning while checking your balance you might be up to an unpleasant surprise. The only exception is cash. Cash will go into you account immediately and you can use it right away.
You think that if you don’t have enough money in the account bank will not let you use your card because of you don’t have sufficient funds. That is not always true. Very often bank will let the transaction go through and then charge you fines up to 35-40 dollars. If you make 5 purchases of a one dollar item while overcharging your account each of those purchases will cost you 35-40 dollars in fines.
The best way to keep yourself out of that kind of trouble if you have savings account in the same bank is to sign up for an overdraft protection. The overdraft protection will connect both accounts so in case you go over the funds in checking account bank will transfer money from your savings account to cover the delinquency. In this case bank will charge you only 2-5 dollars.
If you don’t want to open savings account you have another option – to keep some money “below the threshold”. It means that (depending on your lifestyle) you designate how much money you need to keep in your checking account without really having access to it. For example, you decide that your threshold is 300 dollars. It means that at any given time you should have more then 300 dollars in your account. If you accidentally (and it should be an accident, not the rule) go below the threshold you need to make up for it as soon as possible. It will save you those 2-5 dollars in fees with the overdraft protection and whatever fees are affiliated with the savings account but in this case you should be very diligent with the threshold amount.
And last but not least: always read all agreement brochures provided to you by the bank and ask a lot of questions. Don’t assume anything.