Pros and Cons of Credit Cards

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Let’s take a hard look at the “pros and cons of credit cards” to see if they’re right for you.

Credit Cards vs. Paying with Cash: Which Is Better?

It’s a rivalry as old as time itself (seemingly), which will likely be argued until cash is eventually obsolete.

So, do you prefer to pay with greenbacks or plastic? Cash or charge? That’s the grand question, and one that definitely seems to be more of a preference than anything else.

These days, this question is actually not coming up as much as it once did. Why? Well, for one, a lot of retailers and other business outfits aren’t accepting cash anymore.

Take for instance an airline. Most, if not all, require that onboard purchases be made with a credit card instead of cash.

Long story short, if you want an in-flight beverage, or wish to purchase a snack or a blanket, you better have your plastic at the ready.

Of course, it can be both a debit or a credit card, but it’s got to be plastic. Your valuable cash is no good here. And it seems more and more places are following this trend.

Heck, even parking meters have credit card slots nowadays, which is actually pretty darn convenient for those of us that don’t have a cup holder full of crusty dimes and nickels.

At the same time, there are still handfuls of retailers out there that refuse to accept credit cards, largely because they’re either old school or don’t want to pay the costly interchange fees.

Either way, if you want to do business with these types, your plastic will be about as valuable as the material it’s made of.

In other words, cash is still a necessity, though so too is credit.

The debate over whether the use of credit cards is good or bad is fierce, and seemingly never-ending.

Many people feel that credit cards are the root of all evil, while others look at the benefits credit cards afford consumers.

But the key to the debate is truly understanding what a credit card is, and is not.

What Is a Credit Card?

Let’s talk about what a credit card is. A credit card is a payment method that allows consumers to buy goods or services on credit.

Consumers can buy items without having the available cash on hand, and pay at a later date.

A minimum payment is due every month on revolving accounts – if the credit card is a charge card, the full balance is due at the end of each month.

Now that we have the basics down, let’s talk about what a credit card really is, and why we need them.

Let’s face it; we are a credit-driven nation. Almost every consumer in the United States has a credit card, and nearly every merchant in the United States now accepts credit cards as a form of payment.

Heck, they can even be used at parking meters, and many airlines now ONLY accept credit cards as opposed to cash.

At the end of the day, credit cards are a convenient form of payment, and it’s almost impossible to get by without one these days.

In fact, if you want to qualify for larger loans such as auto loans or mortgages, you must establish and build a solid credit history, often through the use of credit cards.

So it’s not so much a matter of choice, but a matter of necessity.

Many opponents of credit card use, such as Dave Ramsey, say you can and should live without credit cards, but they fail to realize that banks and lenders won’t give you a loan without credit history.

And how many people can actually buy a home outright, without a mortgage? Or even a car for that matter?

[Do you need a credit card to build credit history?]

Credit Cards Aren’t Free Money

All that said, it’s important to note that a credit card is not free money, contrary to popular belief.

You must pay the money back, and if you don’t, you will be assessed finance charges and possibly penalties.

So a credit card isn’t an option to avoid getting a job, nor is a credit card intended to be a means of overextending yourself either.

If you don’t have the money, or you won’t be getting the money soon, don’t charge it. It’s as simple as that.

If you have a commission-based salary, it could make sense to charge purchases to a 0% APR credit card and pay them off when the money becomes available.

But if you’re a college student spending money you don’t have, you’re heading straight for trouble.

Credit Cards Offer Convenience and Security

Along with the much needed credit history credit cards can provide, they also offer convenience, flexibility, and security.

How many people want to go to the bank several times a week to withdraw cash? And how many people want to fumble through their wallet to make payments at every merchant they visit?

Credit cards offer a form of flexibility. If you don’t get paid regularly, you may have trouble paying for items at the time of purchase.

With a credit card, you can make the purchase now, and pay later. Or during tough times, you can make the essential purchases you need today, and pay once you get back on your feet, of course, with a portion going to the credit card issuer.

Another very important and often overlooked positive aspect of credit cards is the security feature. It’s not smart to carry around large quantities of cash for any reason.

With a credit card, you can leave your cash in the safe hands of your bank.

Along those same lines, using your credit card for purchases is safer than using cash because you’re purchase is documented, and most credit card issuers will allow you to dispute any purchases with the merchant if any problems arise.

If you pay with cash, you’re on your own. And there’s often no transaction history associated.

Many credit card issuers also offer extended warranties simply by using the credit card for purchase. Instead of getting a 12-month warranty on that big screen, you’ll get two years free of charge.

Credit Cards Come with Big Rewards

On top of that, many credit cards also come with hefty rewards, including cash back, gas rewards, and much more.

You basically get “free money” for charging everyday purchases, and are essentially encouraged to use your credit card at certain establishments more, thanks to rotating spending categories.

This is a dangerous game, as you only get a small percentage of each purchase back, such as 1% or 2%, or perhaps 5%.

This pales in comparison to the cost of the purchases, especially if they are only made to obtain the bonus.

When it comes down to it, credit card issuers aren’t dense. They aren’t offering up free money unless they know doing so will be profitable, so spend carefully!

Yes, you can earn some serious cash back with a credit card, but you’ve got to know how the game works.

[What credit card has the best rewards?]

Many credit cards also offer free insurance for things like travel, car rentals, and so forth, which can come in handy and save you money if anything goes wrong.

Credit Card Pros

credit card pros

  • Ability to build credit history
  • Allow for flexible spending
  • Provide security and convenience
  • Document your spending (helpful for taxes)
  • Come with free insurance and extended warranties
  • Offer cash back and other forms of rewards

Sure There Are Drawbacks…

Some argue that the cost of credit drives up prices and makes us spend more.

There’s certainly an argument there as the disconnect between money changing hands is evident when cash isn’t even present during the transaction.

Additionally, the use of credit can hurt your credit score and make access to credit in the future more difficult.

So you have to manage your credit responsibly, or pay the price, literally, in the form of higher interest rates on future lines of credit.

And with exorbitant credit card fees, penalties, and the possibility of overextending one’s self, the debate will surely rattle on.

Thankfully, credit card issuers are beginning to clean up their act and make the terms and conditions more clear, and penalties more reasonable.

But the question of credit card use shouldn’t be so much about whether they’re good or bad, but if we as human beings are responsible enough to use them.

Credit Card Cons

credit card cons

Yes, I Use Credit Cards Nearly All the Time

In case you were wondering, yes, I use a credit card for pretty much all of my spending.

I have a stable of credit cards I use for different purposes. For example, if I want to earn 5% cash back on gas and groceries, I swipe with my Blue Cash from Amex.

I also turn to the rotating 5% cash back categories offered via Chase Freedom and Discover it if they’ll benefit me. Ultimately, my goal is to always earn at least 5% cash back on all my purchases.

Additionally, I take advantage of credit card portals that offer the chance to stack cash back bonuses, such as ShopDiscover and Amex Offers.

And I’m always happy to take advantage of an awesome sign-up bonus to get tons of miles or points for spending a certain amount of money in a specified period of time.

You can see all the cards I carry in my wallet if you look to the top right-hand side of this page.

Just remember that I’m a responsible spender. I wouldn’t use credit cards if I couldn’t control and keep track of my spending. Lastly, I always pay my credit cards off in full each month. And so should you, unless you’ve got 0% APR.

(photo: Banalities)


  1. solid writeup. i believe credit cards are a necessity, as you mentioned. can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

  2. That’s pretty much the summary. You can get by without them, but it’s becoming very difficult these days.

  3. Only irresponsible people dislike credit cards. If you can’t be an adult like the rest of us then use your cash.

  4. Credit cards aren’t bad or evil. Anything can be bad if not handled responsibly. Let’s all be adults and we won’t encounter any problems.

  5. When I was a lot younger I thought credit cards were the worst, mainly because I was unable to pay them back, but now that I’m older (and have money to pay them off each month) I absolutely love them. The rewards you can get these days are unbelievable, so for the responsible few there are a lot of pros…

  6. I just pay in cash. Even with the cash back earned via credit cards I find that I spend less when I pay with actual cash.

  7. Agree with Norm. There are studies that prove people spend more with credit than with cash.

  8. I think the main problem is that people spend more with plastic because they don’t see the cash leaving their hands. There are studies backing this up. I still use credit cards, but it’s undeniable that we spend more as a result.

  9. I want to hate credit cards because they’re inherently evil, but the sign up bonuses are too good to be missed. Just gotta be careful not to get burned playing this game.

  10. Annie,

    Yep, you just have to be careful not to overspend and get into debt. If you can beat them you’ll make out pretty well with the current offers available today.

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