Debit vs. credit cards—know the difference

Cashless cards may all look similar, but the way they work is completely different. Discover the differences between debit, credit, and pre-paid cards with this simple guide.
A person taking out an Ocean colored N26 You card from their jacket inner pocket.

What is a debit card?

Debit cards are linked to your bank account, giving you access to your balance. You can use them to make purchases in stores or online, or withdraw from ATMs. They’re easy to use and mean you don’t need to carry physical cash. In some cases, you can borrow money from a debit account using overdraft, which allows your balance to go into the negatives. But there are often extra charges for this, especially if you haven’t arranged it in advance with your bank.

What is a credit card?

Credit cards borrow money from the card issuer every time you make a purchase. Each payment you make gets added to your total outstanding balance, which you’ll have to pay back later, along with any interest required. Credit cards offer lots of advantages, like quick access to funds, building your credit rating, cashback rewards, fraud protection and more. But they can also be risky—if you aren’t able to pay back your outstanding balance, your credit score will drop and the interest can add up.

What is a pre-paid card?

Pre-paid (or top-up) cards work as a fixed payment system—you load money onto the card from another account or with cash. This amount isn’t linked to your bank account, so you never have to worry about overspending. They’re great for setting budgets or cutting down on carrying cash. Plus, they’re usually reloadable, and you generally don’t need a credit check to get one. However, they can include multiple fees so make sure you read the fine print.

Debit vs. credit vs. prepaid cards

Now that you know the basic differences between debit, credit, and pre-paid cards, decide which option is right for you.
  • Debit cards generally offer easier terms of eligibility and minimize debt risk. Plus, you get the option of saving money in your own bank account.
  • Credit cards offer extra spending flexibility, but there’s a risk if you can’t pay the money back right away.
  • Pre-paid cards will prevent you from going into debt, but you won’t have the flexibility of a full bank account
A hand holding a credit card.

N26 debit cards—find the right card for you

All N26 bank accounts come with a virtual N26 debit Mastercard, which you can link to Apple Pay or Google Pay. Make free payments in any currency, withdraw cash for free, and enjoy full security protection on every card purchase. N26 Standard account holders can get a debit card paired with their N26 account against a one-off fee covering the delivery. N26 Smart and N26 You customers can choose from one of five card colors. Or opt for a sleek, stainless steel card with N26 Metal.
Find the plan
N26 transparent Mastercard, Charcoal black Metal Mastercard and teal Mastercard.

Find a plan for you

N26 Standard

The free* online bank account

The N26 virtual card.
Virtual Card


  • A virtual debit card

  • Free payments worldwide

  • Up to 3 free withdraws

  • Deposit protection

N26 Smart

The bank account that gives you more control

N26 You card, Teal.
N26 You card, Ash.
N26 You card, Wheat.
N26 You card, Petrol.
N26 You card, Rhubarb.


  • Free Virtual Card

  • Up to 10 Spaces sub-accounts

  • Support Center phone number

  • Round-ups


N26 You

The debit card for everyday and travel

N26 You card, Rhubarb.
N26 You card, Petrol.
N26 You card, Wheat.
N26 You card, Ash.
N26 You card, Teal.


  • Up to 5 free withdrawals in the Eurozone

  • Flight and luggage delay cover

  • Medical emergency cover

  • Winter activities insurance

  • Pandemic coverage

N26 Metal

The premium account with a metal card

N26 Metal - Slate Grey.
N26 Metal - Charcoal Black.
Quartz Rose - N26 Metal Card.


  • An 18-gram metal card

  • Up to 8 free withdrawals in the Eurozone

  • Purchase protection

  • Phone insurance

  • Dedicated N26 Metal line

  • What is a credit card?
  • What is a debit card?
  • What is a pre-paid card?
  • Does N26 offer credit cards?
  • How long does it take to get an N26 debit card?