What is a virtual card and how do you use one?

You can do just about anything virtually these days, from doctor’s appointments to grocery shopping. You can even make purchases without first digging out your wallet and debit or credit card, thanks to virtual cards.

Virtual cards are digital versions of your credit or debit card. They’re designed to keep your actual card information from falling into the wrong hands. And they provide a way for you to access your accounts before your physical card arrives in the mail. Virtual cards and digital wallets are becoming an increasingly common part of mobile banking.

Here’s a closer look to help you get to know how they work — and how they can make your life easier.

Virtual credit card: What is it and how does it work?

A virtual credit card is a credit card number linked to your credit card account. You can use it the same way you would use your physical credit card when shopping online or making a payment over the phone. 

In some cases, virtual credit cards will generate a unique credit card number, expiration date, and security code. This feature makes virtual cards more secure since retailers are unable to store your actual card information. And this helps limit your risk because the bad guys can’t access your credit card data if a business you’ve shopped at experiences a data breach.

For added security, some card issuers will also change your virtual credit card number or security code for each transaction or for different merchants. If a hacker does happen to gain access to your virtual credit card information, you can simply cancel that virtual card without having to close your entire account.

Most major credit card issuers provide some version of a virtual card. Request one by contacting your issuer. Some allow you to make a request online or through a mobile app. Your new virtual credit card number will usually be issued immediately upon request and is available for use right away.

In some cases, you can use a virtual credit card in a brick-and-mortar store by using your virtual wallet tied to your mobile phone.  To use your virtual card IRL, you will need to connect it first to a digital wallet.

Virtual debit card: What is it and how does it work?

A virtual debit card is similar in some ways to a virtual credit card. When you’re issued one, your bank generates card information you can use to make purchases without using your physical debit card. Like a physical debit card, a virtual debit card is linked to your bank account. You can only use it for the amount in your bank account to shop online, provide payment over the phone, or pay in person at a store that accepts digital wallet payments.  

If you’ve opened a checking or savings account before, you know it can take weeks to receive your debit card in the mail. After opening an account, in many cases you may receive a virtual debit card instantly that you can use until you get your physical debit card. Check with your bank to see how your virtual and physical debit card work together.

Looking for virtual debit card options? Spruce offers a virtual debit card that you can use immediately after opening a Spruce account and until you receive the physical debit card.

What is a digital wallet or mobile wallet?

Digital wallets contain digital versions of your credit and debit cards and offer a fast, convenient way to pay. They are available on electronic devices including smartphones, laptops, tablets, or smartwatches. There are several digital wallet applications with names you may already recognize, like Apple WalletTM, Google PayTM, or Samsung Pay®. Spruce customers can push their Spruce card to their Apple Wallet or Google Pay directly from the Spruce mobile app.   

To set up your digital wallet in most cases, enter your card information in the digital wallet app you’ve chosen. Your information is encrypted, and your actual debit or credit card number isn’t stored on your device.

Take note! With the Spruce app, you can add all of your debit card information to your digital wallet with just a few clicks.  

Once you’ve entered your information, you can use your digital wallet to make purchases online, in apps, or in stores that support digital wallet payments. 

If an online retailer supports digital wallet payments, you’ll have the option to select a digital wallet as a form of payment at checkout. In a brick-and-mortar store, open your digital wallet app and hold your phone near the contactless reader at checkout.

In addition to payment information, digital wallets can also store other important documents, like plane tickets, loyalty cards, concert and event tickets, coupons, hotel reservations, and even your driver’s license.

The difference between a virtual card and digital wallet

Virtual cards and mobile wallets are separate tools that work well together. Your bank provides virtual credit cards and virtual debit cards by generating a unique card number, expiration date, and security code. Virtual wallets are apps where you can store this information and quickly access it when you need it.

Get all the benefits of a virtual debit card with Spruce

Spruce virtual debit cards offer several benefits, including:

  • Fraud prevention. If you add your virtual card to your digital wallet, your card number is tokenized and never shared, and, therefore, your financial data is less susceptible to hackers.
  • Easy cancellation. No payment method is entirely secure. Even with encrypted numbers and other security measures, your virtual card information may still fall into the wrong hands. But if a hacker does gain access to your account, virtual cards are easy to cancel and replace, and reload into your wallet.
  • Convenience when shopping. Virtual cards allow you to pay safely without your physical card on hand using your mobile wallet.
  • Quick access to funds. You get a virtual card as soon as you sign up for Spruce. No waiting for a card in the mail before you can start using it.
  • Secure storage on your phone. If you’re someone who happens to misplace items often, this may be the biggest benefit. Virtual cards and digital wallets allow you to store your payment information in one place — your phone. When going out with friends or spending the day shopping you only need to have your phone with you, decreasing the chances of accidentally leaving your credit card somewhere. Be aware though, keeping all of this information on your phone makes password-protecting your device even more important.                 

Beyond virtual cards: See how Spruce can help you be better with money

Looking for a way to get a virtual debit card but don’t know where to start? Check out Spruce, a mobile banking app that could help you get better with money. With Spruce, you can get a virtual debit card to use anywhere that accepts Debit Mastercard and enjoy the convenience of making payments without needing to swipe a physical card.

And with features like cash back rewards at select retailers, help with saving goals, and early access to paychecks, Spruce has the tools you need to start better money habits and take control of your finances.

Find out more about all the features Spruce has to offer. 

Get started with Spruce! 

This information provided for general educational purposes only. It is not intended as specific financial planning advice as everyone’s financial situation is different.

Apple Wallet is a trademark of Apple Inc.  Samsung Pay is a registered trademark of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. Google Pay is a trademark of Google, LLC. 

Was this article helpful?

Get better with money.