Debit Card vs. Credit Card: What's the Difference?

Maria Collinge
January 26, 2023
When it comes to credit and debit cards, getting the most out of each purchase is key – so make sure you choose wisely (Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash)
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The likelihood is that you have at least one credit card and one debit card stashed in your purse or wallet and it's hard to believe that credit cards and debit cards were once the stuff of science fiction. Having both credit and debit cards in your possession offers consumers added convenience, but it's important to know the differences between them. This way you can save money, build credit history, and stay on top of your spending habits. 

From groceries to Amazon orders, using credit or debit can make sure you never miss a payment while helping you manage your finances effectively. When it comes to credit and debit cards, getting the most out of each purchase is key – so make sure you choose wisely.

Credit cards vs debit cards: An overview

Convenience is the name of the game when it comes to debit and credit cards. These two payment methods are becoming more and more accepted in their many forms - debit, Visa, Mastercard, prepaid and the like, so that individuals can make easy payments without having to carry cash.

Every debit and credit card has a series of numbers embossed or printed along with the cardholder's name - plus an extra layer of security for peace of mind. This includes magnetic stripes on the back, a special security code, as well as an embedded microchip on the front containing all your personal and financial information. With this technology, purchasing some wine and chocolates at the end of a long week is now both fast and secure, making your retail therapy quick, worry-free and even empowering.

One key difference is that credit card transactions don't require the added step of entering a unique personal identification number (PIN) (Photo: Mirza Babic/Unsplash)

Debit cards

Debit cards provide an empowering tool to those who want to manage their finances, not get tempted into the allure of shops windows and deal, and can help hamper down a sense of overwhelm. Unlike a credit card, debit cards are directly linked to your checking account. So rather than having an easily available line of credit, you are only able to spend the amount of money that is in your account - that's it! This means there is no possibility of spending "on credit", as debit cards act much like a debit card or cash withdrawal. So yes, they offer control over budgeting decisions while relieving you of the hassle of writing paper checks or making multiple trips to the bank.

Debit cards are the perfect way to handle all of your banking needs and can save you from making a dreaded trip to the bank. When you use your debit card at an ATM, store, or online, the money comes right out of your account. No credit card bills to worry about down the road – it's all taken care of. For purchases over a certain amount - or if you're using credit and gift cards instead - there may be a 24-hour hold on funds, but don't fret – that's just standard operating procedure. Weekend getaways and holidays are great times to stock up on supplies using credit and gift cards, as they'll take a bit longer to process and won't leave you dry when the final tally is due.

People often think credit cards and debit cards are interchangeable, but one key difference is that credit card transactions don't require the added step of entering a unique personal identification number (PIN). This PIN ensures additional security and protection in case your debit card is lost or stolen. Without it, no fraudulent activity can take place on the account. Talk about having the power! Keeping your credit card safe has never been easier: Just make sure you're the only one who knows your PIN and there will be no cause for alarm. Shopping with your debit card can be an empowering experience when you know it's safe from any nosy criminals trying to get their hands on your finances.

Credit cards

Everyone has experienced an empty bank account right before payday, but thanks to credit cards it doesn't have to be a complete and utter disaster. Getting access to credit with a credit card is unbelievably easy and makes managing your finances a whole lot simpler. Although credit card companies will require repayment of borrowed funds along with an agreed-upon interest rate, credit cards can be a great tool for anyone looking to maximise their potential by making smart investments or purchases with credit. Plus, you don’t have to worry about being caught short if you ever need access to quick cash.

However, getting approved for one isn't so easy as signing up for a debit card. Credit cards require you to fill out an application and qualify during the credit check process. But if you have good credit, it'll be easy to get approved for credit cards with lower interest rates and higher credit limits that offer great rewards and cash back bonuses. Even if you don't have the best credit score, it's still possible to get a credit card - just make sure to read over all the terms and conditions before signing up. And the logic follows that the better someone's credit, the higher their spending limit.

Weigh up the pros and cons and decide what works for you.

And the good news? Credit card companies give customers a grace period of up to 30 days to pay their balance in full before they start charging interest on purchases- phew! This can give you the breathing room needed to get your finances in order without having to be hit with those dreaded credit card interest charges. The best way to utilise the period is by using it as time for budgeting and planning your credit card usage for the month or longer. Make sure you stick to this plan, and you’ll be able to keep about interest free credit.

Key differences between credit and debit cards

The main difference between debit and credit cards lies in how the money is extracted from your account. A debit card it a little more on the speedy side and takes funds out of your bank account immediately at the time of the purchase. On the other hand, a credit card allows you to create a loan with the issuer, paying them back when your statement comes due with interest owing if there is an outstanding balance.  So yes you'll still pay, just later down the line.

Other differences include eligibility requirements and rewards programs. Debit cardholders do not gain any kind of reward or points programme when making purchases, whilst credit card holders can collect points such as cashback, air miles or discounts toward future purchases. This can be pretty exciting and can make spending a bit more of a game! But of course, within your means.

You also can't use your debit card when the fund bucket has been drained and emptied, and this can leave you a bit frustrated when your card declines at the self-checkout. The goods news is, you don't have to worry if you have a credit card. In this case, you can still make purchases with your credit card even when your debit card can no longer be used because of insufficient funds.

The pros and cons of using credit cards

When assessing whether to use a credit card, it's essential you bear in mind their pros and cons.

Pros of using credit cards

1. Builds credit: Your credit score is a number that represents your creditworthiness, or how likely you are to repay your debts. A good credit score can help you to qualify for loans and lines of credit at favorable interest rates. Additionally, a good credit score can also help you to get approved for rental apartments and jobs.

2. Rewards and perks: For example, some cards offer cash back on purchases, while others offer points that can be redeemed for travel or merchandise. Additionally, many cards come with added perks such as extended warranties on purchases and free access to rental cars and airport lounges.

3. Convenience: Credit cards are also more convenient than other forms of payment, such as cash or checks. With a credit card, you don't have to worry about carrying around large amounts of cash or writing a check every time you make a purchase. Additionally, you can use your credit card to make purchases online or over the phone.

When you use a credit card, it can be easy to lose track of your spending and end up spending more money than you can afford to pay back (Image: Female Invest)

4. Safety: Credit cards are also much safer than cash or checks. If you lose your credit card, you can simply call your issuer and have them cancel the card and send you a new one. Additionally, if your card is stolen, most issuers will reimburse you for any unauthorised charges that are made on your account.

5. Flexibility: Another advantage of using a credit card is that it gives you the flexibility to make larger purchases than you could with cash or checks. For example, if you need to make an emergency purchase but don't have the cash on hand, you can use your credit card and pay off the balance over time.

Cons of using credit cards

1. Spending more money: When you use a credit card, it can be easy to lose track of your spending and end up spending more money than you can afford to pay back. This can lead to debt and financial problems down the road.

2. Interest fees: You may pay more in interest and fees than you would if you were using cash or a debit card. Credit cards typically have high interest rates, which means that you will end up paying more in interest if you carry a balance on your card from month to month. Additionally, many credit cards charge annual fees, late payment fees, and other types of charges that can add up over time.

3. Damaging credit scores: If you use a credit card responsibly, it can help to improve your credit score. However, if you misuse your credit card or make late payments, it could damage your credit score. A low credit score can make it difficult to get approved for loans or lines of credit in the future, and can also lead to higher interest rates and fees.

4. Temptation to spend more: When you use a credit card, you may not feel like you are spending real money, which can lead to overspending. Additionally, many people are tempted to make impulse purchases with their credit cards that they later regret.

Assess the pros and cons of credit and debit cards before making a final decision (Photo: Unsplash)

5. Budgeting your money: This may be difficult with a credit card because you may not know how much money you have available to spend each month. This can lead to overspending and debt if you are not careful. Additionally, budgeting can be difficult when there is no physical limit on how much money you can spend each month (like with cash).

The pros and cons of using debit cards

Now that you've got a handle of credit cards' pros and cons, let's dive into debit cards.

Pros of using debit cards

1. Convenient: You can use them anywhere credit cards are accepted, which these days is pretty much everywhere! This means you don't have to carry around cash or checks, which can be easy to lose. Additionally, you can use your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs when you need it.

2. Safe: Being linked directly to a bank account, this means that if your card is lost or stolen, you can quickly cancel it and get a new one without losing any money. Additionally, if you use a debit card with a PIN, your transactions will be even more secure.

3. Easy to use: Debit cards are easy to use as you simply swipe or insert them into the card reader and enter your PIN. This makes them faster than using cash or checks, which can take longer. Additionally, you can use your debit card to make purchases online or over the phone.

4. Track your spending: Another advantage of debit cards is that they can help you track your spending. When you use a debit card, the transaction will appear on your bank statement. This makes it easy to see how much money you're spending and where you're spending it. Additionally, some banks offer spending alerts that can notify you when you've reached a certain limit.

5. Building your credit score: If you use your debit card regularly and make sure to pay off your balance in full each month, this will show lenders that you're responsible with credit and could help you qualify for better terms in the future.

Cons of using debit cards

1. You may be charged fees: Some banks charge a monthly fee for having a debit card, and some retailers also charge a fee for using a debit card. Additionally, you may be charged a fee if you use an ATM that is not affiliated with your bank.

2. You may overdraw your account: This can happen if you spend more money than you have in your account or if you make a mistake when entering your PIN number. If you overdraw your account, you will likely be charged a fee by your bank. Additionally, the merchant may also charge you a fee for returning the item.

(Photo: Heshan Perera/Unsplash)

3. Your information may be stolen: If someone gets access to your debit card number and PIN, they can drain your bank account. Additionally, if your debit card is lost or stolen, it can be used to make unauthorized purchases.

4. You may have trouble getting a loan:  This is because lenders typically view debit cards as being less secure than credit cards. As such, they may be less likely to approve you for a loan if you only have a debit card.

5. You may miss out on rewards: Many credit cards offer rewards such as cash back or points that can be redeemed for travel or merchandise. Debit cards typically do not offer these types of rewards

Which one should I use?

Ultimately, which is better for you depends on your financial situation and how comfortable you feel managing credit responsibly. Credit cards offer more protection for fraudulent purchases from nosy criminal and can also be useful for accumulating rewards points (who doesn't love rewards)? But depending on your credit score, credit card interest rates can be higher than those of debit cards, and can rack up how much you end up spending. Moreover, credit cards require more financial responsibility as it is possible to rack up a significant amount of debt.

Credit cards are so convenient and can offer a great solution for large or unexpected expenses, like when the washing machine suddenly packs in, or when a medical bill lands in your pocket. Even better credit cards can be a lifesaver when traveling abroad, offering an instant line of credit to purchase goods and services without having to worry about carrying large sums of cash in a foreign country.

When it comes to budgeting, debit cards are the smarter choice. They let you easily and quickly spend only the money that's sitting in your bank account. No credit card bills or fees - just a responsible way to manage expenses because your spending is limited to what you actually have access to. It eliminates any risk of overspending on credit, because when the money's gone: it's gone. We call this "no surprises budgeting" - and it makes using a debit card almost foolproof!

What's a safer option: Debit or credit cards?

Credit cards are the best course of action when it comes to protecting against potential fraud and data breaches. If you use a credit card, you can rest easy knowing credit card companies are right there to provide refunds as quickly as possible. Not just that, but credit card companies also have safeguards in place, so they step up whenever they spot suspicious or unauthorised transactions – something debit cards unfortunately don’t always do. You can save yourself a major headache down the road by choosing credit cards over their debit-card counterparts anytime you need to make a purchase.

In contrast, when using a debit card you put yourself at a greater risk, as many banks will not refund money that has already been taken out of your account if your information is stolen. However, with debit cards you can often avoid unnecessary fees which credit cards can sometimes carry. Ultimately the best option is up to personal preference and situation as both credit and debit cards can be used safely when properly managed.

Final thoughts (on credit cards vs debit cards)

Finding the right way to manage your finances can be something of a tightrope walk. On the one hand, credit cards provide an excellent way to build credit and are very useful if you're wanting to maintain steady credit scores. On the other, debit cards can provide a more rigid budgeting plan that makes it easier to keep within your means. Though some individuals prefer the security of using only one or the other method, savvy financial planning sometimes requires mixing and matching credit cards and debit cards. Whatever strategy you choose, make sure you stay informed, have a game plan for managing your credit and debit accounts, and don't forget that humour always helps in conquering a tough situation!