Most of the time, it's safer to swipe a credit card than a debit card at the register.
That's because, unlike ATM cards, credit cards offer key protections against fraudulent charges and damaged purchases. Still, 66 percent of Americans believe choosing debit over credit is the safer bet, a 2017 survey from Compare Cards and Lending Tree reports. This belief holds especially true for millennials: 69 percent of them say they believe debit cards are as safe or safer than credit cards.
But even if you choose to stick to your debit card for everyday purchases, there are some situations in which you may want to think twice, Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com, tells CNBC Make It.
Here are two of the most important times to consider using credit over debit.
One of the drawbacks of debit cards is that they essentially function like cash. If fraudulent charges are made, you could be liable for a lot: from $50 to everything in your account, potentially. So when you're shopping for expensive items, such as a new couch or a laptop, using a credit card is usually the safer option, thanks to its secret perks.
"Using debit cards for larger-ticket purchases can be a drawback because you don't have the same purchase protection that credit cards have," McBride says. "For example, a lot of credit cards offer the ability to get a rebate if the price drops within three months after you buy it."
Most credit card companies will also help you out if a purchase is damaged or stolen. "You can dispute that with your card issuer and you don't have to make the payment because the card issuer will go after the merchant to say, 'Hey, look, you've got to make this right or refund the money,'" McBride says.
When you rent a car or book a hotel, be wary of charging the expense to your debit card. Often, these types of places put a hold on your card as insurance that you'll pay your bill. With a debit card, that means the amount available in your account is reduced. So, if you're not paying attention to your balance while on vacation, it can be easy to spend more than you mean to — or more than you've got.
Likewise, when you rent a car, "they may put a $500 hold on your account, so you've basically got $500 in your checking account in limbo," McBride says. "That might trigger overdraft [fees] for other payments that are already scheduled."
While it's possible to carefully monitor your account, it's also easy to forget. Using a credit card instead can generally eliminate that stress.
Credit cards come with their own set of warnings, however. They can also lead to overspending. And if you're jet setting internationally, check first to see if your card charges foreign transaction fees and create a plan ahead of time.
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