Personal finance experts spend a lot of energy trying to prevent us from using credit cards – and with good reason. Many of us abuse them and end up in debt. But contrary to popular belief, if you can use a credit card responsibly, you're actually much better off paying with credit than with debit. Find out why your trusty credit card comes out on top.
10 Reasons Why Credit Trumps Debit
1. Signup Bonuses
The standard debit card offers zero rewards or very small rewards. Many credit cards, however, offer significant rewards when used responsibly. For example, applicants with good credit can get approved for credit cards that offer signup bonuses worth anywhere from $50 to $250 (and sometimes even more). Other cards offer up a large number of points that can be redeemed for rewards like gift cards or air travel.
2. Cash Back
If you sign up for the right credit card, you can earn anywhere from 1% to 5% back on your purchases.
3. Investment Rewards
Some cards, like the Fidelity Investment Rewards card, offer a higher rate of cash back; in exchange you must deposit your cash back directly into an investment account.
4. Frequent-Flyer Miles
It seems like every airline these days has at least one credit card available. Cardholders rack up miles at a rate of one mile per dollar spent, or sometimes one mile per two dollars spent. The price of the plane ticket you ultimately end up redeeming your miles for will determine how valuable this credit card reward is, but many frequent flyer cards are made immensely more valuable by their mileage signup bonuses – these are often enough to put you 50-100% of the way toward a free flight within a month or two.
Many card rewards work on a point system where you earn up to five points per dollar spent. When you reach a certain point threshold, you can redeem your points for gift cards at some stores. You can also use the gift cards as gifts, making holiday and birthday shopping simpler and less expensive.
Paying with a credit card makes it easier to avoid losses from fraud. When your debit card is used fraudulently, the money is missing from your account instantly. Legitimate payments for which you've scheduled online payments or mailed checks may bounce, triggering insufficient funds fees and making your creditors unhappy. Late payments can also lower your credit score. It can take a while for the fraudulent transactions to be reversed and the money restored to your account while the bank investigates.
By contrast, when your credit card is used fraudulently, you aren't out any money – you just notify your credit card company of the fraud and don't pay for the transactions you didn't make while the credit card company resolves the matter.
7. Grace Period
When you make a debit card purchase, your money is gone instantly. When you make a credit card purchase, your money remains in your checking account until a couple of weeks later when you pay your credit card bill. Hanging on to your money for this extra time can be helpful in two ways. First, if you pay your credit card from a high-interest checking account and earn interest on your money during the grace period, the extra interest will eventually add up to a meaningful amount. Second, when you always pay with a credit card, you don't have to watch your bank account balance like crazy to make sure you stay in the black.
Most credit cards automatically come with a plethora of consumer protections that people don't even realize they have, such as rental car insurance, travel insurance and product warranties that may exceed the manufacturer's warranty.
9. Universal Acceptance
Certain purchases are difficult to make with a debit card. When you want to rent a car or stay in a hotel room, you'll almost certainly have an easier time if you have a credit card. Rental car companies and hotels want customers to pay with credit cards because it can be easier to charge customers for any damage they cause to a room or a car this way. So if you want to pay for one of these items with a debit card, the company may insist on putting a hold of several hundred dollars on your account. Also, when you're traveling in a foreign country, merchants won't always accept your debit card as payment, even when it has a major bank logo on it.
10. Building Credit
If you have no credit or are trying to improve your credit score, using a credit card responsibly will help your credit score because credit card companies will report your payment activity to the credit bureaus. Debit card use doesn't appear anywhere on your credit report, however, so it can't help you build or improve your credit.
When You Shouldn't Use a Credit Card Instead of a Debit Card
Despite the advantages that paying with a credit card has over paying with a debit card, for some people it's still better to use debit. Using a credit card may not be right for you under the following circumstances:
- You can't pay your credit card balance in full and on time.
If this tends to happen to you, stick with cash to avoid racking up fees.
- You tend to spend more than you can afford.
Paying with debit will limit you to spending money you've already earned.
- You can only get a credit card with a very low credit limit and you have a hard time staying under the balance.
The fees for exceeding your credit limit are costly, and doing this can also put a dent in your credit score.
The Bottom Line
If you already know how to use a credit card responsibly, you really shouldn't be using your debit card for anything other than ATM access. And if you don't know how to use a credit card responsibly, now you have even more incentive to improve your habits. Many benefits await those who opt to responsibly use credit instead of debit.