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The world of credit cards can feel like walking a tightrope. On one side, you have potential rewards and convenience. On the other, you have potential debt if you don’t use your credit card responsibly.

Credit cards, like any financial tool, have advantages and disadvantages. Understanding how to maximize their benefits while reducing risks is crucial in making credit cards a helpful addition to your wallet.

This guide will unpack the pros and cons of credit cards so you can make informed decisions about your credit card use.

7 pros of having a credit card

Credit cards are more than just a payment method; they can earn you rewards and other perks when you use them wisely. Here are some of the most notable advantages of credit cards:

  • Build credit: If you use your credit card regularly and make payments on time, you could see your credit score improve. Strong credit can open the door to better loan terms and interest rates.
  • Defer payments: Some credit cards offer their own “buy now, pay later” programs that let you spread out a major expense over time. Depending on the card, you may be able to avoid interest on the expense, though the plan may incur a monthly fee.
  • Earn rewards: Credit cards often offer rewards on purchases, like cash back, points, and travel perks.
  • Get theft protection: Credit cards can offer more protection options against theft when compared to cash or ATM cards. Unauthorized charges may be refundable, though you could be responsible for up to $50 if you report the loss of your card after someone uses it. By contrast, you could be responsible for up to $500 or the entire amount withdrawn if someone steals and uses your debit card, depending on when you report the loss.¹
  • Have travel insurance options: Some cards, especially travel credit cards, come with travel insurance and car rental insurance to protect you from the costs of a trip gone wrong.
  • Enjoy 0% APR promotions: Some credit cards offer 0% APR on purchases or balance transfers to new cardholders, which could save you a lot on interest or help you consolidate debt.
  • Safer and more convenient option than cash: If lost or stolen, credit cards can be canceled and replaced. Plus, a credit card can be easier to carry than a lot of cash and change.
  • Easily track your expenses: Monthly statements and apps make it easy to monitor your spending and manage your finances.

It can be beneficial to have more than one credit card in your wallet. Learn more about how many credit cards you should have (and how many is too many).

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4 cons of having a credit card

However, credit cards are not without their pitfalls. Here are some potential cons to consider:

  • High interest rates and fees: If you don’t pay your balance on time, you could be subject to interest charges and fees. According to the Federal Reserve, the average rate on a credit card is 21.59%.² Interest rates are also typically variable and could increase over time.
  • Deferred interest charges: If you don’t pay off your balance before a 0% APR promotional period comes to an end, the credit card could charge you retroactively for the interest that accrued on your original purchases.
  • Excessive spending and debt: The convenience of credit cards can lead to overspending. You need to proactively set a budget to avoid swiping a credit card too often and ending up in debt.
  • Possibility of negative impact on your credit: Late payments and high utilization can harm your credit score. To protect your credit, try to keep your utilization rate under 30%.

Tips to use a credit card correctly

Using a credit card responsibly is crucial to avoid falling into debt. Here are some tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with your card’s interest rates and fee structure.
  • Spend within your monthly budget.
  • Pay your balance in full every month, if you can, to avoid interest.
  • If you can’t pay in full, pay at least the minimum every month to avoid dinging your credit.
  • Enable autopay for minimum or full payments to avoid late fees.
  • Set up alerts that notify you about your card usage and balance.
  • Monitor your transactions to keep an eye out for fraud.

You’ll generally need a good credit score to qualify for an unsecured credit card that offers rewards points. If your credit isn’t up to par, you could start with a credit card designed to build credit.

Credit card alternatives

If you’ve considered the pros and cons of credit cards and are unsure that credit cards are for you, here are some alternative options to consider:

  • Personal loans: You can use a personal loan for almost any major expense, like a big appliance or home renovation. You’ll pay it back with monthly installments over several years, typically at a fixed interest rate.
  • Consolidation loans: Consolidation loans are typically personal loans that you’ll use to consolidate high-interest debt at a potentially lower interest rate, thereby simplifying payments and hopefully reducing costs.
  • Buy now, pay later (BNPL): There are a variety of BNPL apps that let you spread out the cost of a purchase over time. You can usually avoid interest charges if you choose a relatively short repayment term, or you can elect a longer term that charges interest. Learn more about personal loans vs. buy now, pay later.

Weigh the pros and cons of credit cards

Credit cards offer the opportunity to build credit, earn rewards, and provide financial flexibility, but they also carry the risk of fees, overspending, and negative impacts on your credit score if you don’t use them responsibly.

Learn more about the basics of credit cards to manage them wisely.

Chime® is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services are provided by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank, N.A., Members FDIC. The Chime Visa® Debit Card and the Chime Credit Builder Visa® Credit Card are issued by The Bancorp Bank, N.A. or Stride Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. and may be used everywhere Visa debit and credit cards are accepted. Please see the back of your Card for its issuing bank.

While Chime doesn’t issue personal checkbooks to write checks, Chime Checkbook gives you the freedom to send checks to anyone, anytime, from anywhere. See your issuing bank’s Deposit Account Agreement for full Chime Checkbook details.

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Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank, N.A. and Stride Bank, N.A. (“Banks”). Banks are not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

¹ Information from Federal Trade Commission's Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit Cards as of April 17, 2024: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/lost-or-stolen-credit-atm-and-debit-cards

² Information from Federal Reserve's Consumer Credit - G.19 as of April 9, 2024: https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/

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