debit card, card that allows the cost of goods or services that are purchased to be deducted directly from the purchaser's checking account. They can also be used at automated teller machines for withdrawing cash from the user's checking account. Increasingly common in the 1990s as an alternative to credit cards, debit cards have been promoted as safer than cash and more convenient than personal checks. By 1998 more than 73 million debit cards had been issued, with a sales volume of $134.7 million attributed to their use. They are typically issued by large credit-card companies through their participating banks. Debit cards offer the holder more limited legal protections than credit cards. Similar cards have also been used to distribute welfare benefits to recipients in some locales.