7 Tips For When To Use A Credit Card Instead of a Debit Card

credit card vs. debit card

Using your debit card is a simple way to pay for things instead of carrying around cash, while leveraging your checking account. But debit cards don’t offer the same value or rewards as credit cards. In fact, you could be losing money every time you use your debit card over your credit card.

Avoiding your credit card could be costing you. Here’s when you should use a credit card instead of your debit card.

1. When you’re at the gas pump

Your credit card might be trying to give you money for simply filling up your gas tank. By using your debit card, you’re missing out on that cash.

Many credit cards offer rewards when you buy your gas, and how much money back depends on the card. It’s usually around 2%. But if you’re filling up your tank a couple times a week, that’s a few dollars a month you’re not getting. 

If you’re not getting rewards from filling up your gas tank, try using your rewards credit card or signing up for one. 

2. When you’re at the grocery store

Buying groceries is as essential as making sure your gas tank is filled up. You’re probably heading to the store every few days to stock up and prepare meals. 

Many rewards programs offer cash back every time you check out at the grocery store. When you shop a few times a week, spending a couple hundred dollars a month, that adds up. If you’re using your debit card at checkout, you could be missing out on cash back that you would’ve gotten with your credit card.

3. When you dine out

Giving yourself and your kitchen a rest is a nice treat. What if you knew that every time you indulged in dining out you could get a kick back?

Many credit card rewards programs offer around 3% cash back when you dine out. Even if you went once a week to your favorite restaurant, that could be a good chunk of cash at the end of the year. Consider it a return on investment — when you eat out, you get a little something back.  Even more, a lot of the cards offer cardholders these benefits with no annual fee

4. When you’re traveling

There are travel-specific credit cards for a reason. Rewards vary based on card — many have a points feature that you can redeem for specific offers. But using a travel credit card allows you to build up your rewards that you can turn into anything from a free hotel stay to a flight upgrade. Sometimes your card gets you discounted meals when you travel!

It’s a good idea to buy trip-related things only with money you have in your bank account. But you can use your credit card to get your points and then pay off the card in full at the end of the month. By using your debit card, you’re missing out on major travel bonuses. If you like to travel a lot or you want to start, using a travel credit card can get you major points to turn in for goodies.

5. When you have an emergency

Having an emergency fund is vital to making sure you don’t fall into deep debt. But it’s understandable if something comes up and you don’t have all the cash. A credit card can become a necessity when your bank account doesn’t have the funds you need.

Whether you need to have major car work completed or you need to pay off some hospital bills, a credit card can save you in a pinch. Because the interest rate on a credit card is usually high, credit card users can consolidate their credit card debt later through a personal loan. Otherwise, you can pay off your credit card in a couple short months to avoid paying too much interest.

Using a credit card isn’t ideal for emergencies. But having one just in case could be a saving grace when your debit card might not cover it.

6. For a big purchase

Are you in the market for a new TV or bedroom set? Major purchases can be a good reason to use credit cards.

With rewards-based credit cards, you can earn cash back on anything you buy. While some places — like gas stations and grocery stores — offer more cash back, that doesn’t mean you won’t get something back. Major purchases can get you a good chunk of change back, even if it’s 1%. A debit card won’t offer the same incentives as the offers from card issuers. 

7. To build your credit

Whether you have low or no credit, qualifying for a credit card can be troublesome. However, once you have one, it’s important to use it regularly to build credit. Credit card companies report your usage to credit bureaus every month and the credit bureaus can, in turn, give you your credit report. On-time payment history is the most important part of your credit score and building credit. Proving to credit bureaus that you’re responsible with credit is one of the best ways to boost your score and increase your credit limit.

Continue to keep your usage low by paying off your credit card every month. Low credit use is a big deal to the credit bureaus and will contribute to your credit history.  All in all, credit cards offer great benefits in terms of cash back on everyday purchases, travel rewards and 0% interest intro APRs, but they offer even more in additional perks such as liability protection, rental car insurance and protection against credit card fraud.  The bottom line is that if you are able to use responsibly, you should almost always choose to use a credit card over a debit card.

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