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10 Reasons Credit Cards Are Good

by Ryan Guina

Credit cards are good. Seriously. I think just about everyone should have at least one credit card to help build credit, use for emergencies, fraud protection, and a host of other benefits. But I know that not everyone agrees with me, and many people think that credit cards are bad.

A reader who has had past difficulties with credit card debt challenged me to stop using credit cards:

Ryan, I challenge you to go three months without using your credit cards! Put the $1000 emergency fund in place, freeze your credit cards (better yet cut them up!), and go the entire first quarter of the fiscal year without the plastic.

She believes credit cards are bad and that no one should use them. She has had problems with debt, so I understand where she is coming from. But even though she doesn’t love credit cards, I think her statement takes it just a little too far. Not everyone is in debt, and many people gain benefits from their credit cards.

10 Benefits of Using Credit Cards:

1. Build credit history: Charging small amounts and paying them off is a great way to establish credit history. Without credit history, it can be more difficult to get loans (including good loans such as student loans or a mortgage), secure insurance, or even land a job. If you are able to secure a loan without any credit history, your loan rate may be higher as a result.

2. Emergency source of funds: I mean for a real emergency. A real emergency fund is always best, but not everyone has $1000 cash to buy emergency airline tickets, make car repairs, deal with a natural disaster, etc. And in my opinion, paying 15% interest is much better than taking out a payday loan in an emergency. Some payday loans have interest rates near 1000% if left for an entire year.

3. Fraud / Theft Protection: If your card is lost or stolen, you are only responsible for the first $50 in unauthorized charges. Fraud protection for debit is similar, but only if you notify your financial institution within 2 days. If you wait longer than 2 days, you can be liable for up to $500 on your debit account. Fraud and theft protection is non-existent for cash.

4. Disputed charges: When you dispute a charge on your credit card, most credit card companies remove the charge until the dispute is resolved. With a debit card, the money will not be returned unless you can prove the dispute in your favor. With cash, the money is usually gone.

5. Rewards: Many credit cards offer rewards including cash back, airline miles, discounts, rebates, gift cards and many others. Most of these rewards are designed to get people hooked into using the cards or spending more than they would otherwise, but used properly, rewards points can earn you a lot of money. Some credit cards offer a sign up bonus of several hundred dollars – just for opening an account and meeting a minimum spending requirement.

6. Convenience: I don’t like to carry large amounts of cash with me. If you lose it, it’s gone. If it’s stolen, it’s gone. Credit cards are small, convenient, and carry better consumer protections. They are also convenient to use to buy things on-line, or to buy large dollar items. Another, convenience is travel. I will be going on a cruise next week and if I use my credit cards I won’t need to exchange as much currency. Some credit cards don’t even charge a foreign transaction fee.

7. Car rentals: Some car rental agencies will not allow you to rent a car if you do not have a credit card. Some may allow you to rent a car with a debit card, but may lock up a substantial amount of money in your account until you return the car. You won’t be able to use those funds during that time. Many credit cards also provide additional liability insurance when you rent a car. Debit cards? Not so much.

8. Extended warranties: Many credit card companies provide extended warranties on items you purchase with their card. In some cases, the manufacturer’s warranties are doubled. That’s not a bad feature!

9. Short term loan: Credit cards usually have a grace period, after which your payment is due. This can be several weeks, which allows you to earn interest on purchases you have already made. While this may not be a big deal for a hundred dollars, if you charge a thousand dollars every month and add it up over the course of a year, you can actually earn some decent money with this. With cash or debit cards, the money is immediately removed from your account and you do not earn any interest on it.

10. Budgeting tools: Most credit card companies provide detailed transaction logs which are easily downloaded into Quicken, Mint.com, or other free money management tools. This makes budgeting much easier to track and plan. Yes, it can be done with cash, but it is much more labor intensive. And time, as they say, is money. ;)

Honorable Mention (NOT FOR EVERYONE!!!)

  • Credit card arbitrage: (Note: this is only for experienced credit card users and not recommended unless you completely understand what you are doing, and are responsible enough to follow through with it). Credit card arbitrage entails taking a cash advance on an introductory 0% interest credit card offer, investing the money in a bank account to earn interest, and paying minimum payments until right before interest kicks in, then paying the card in full. Some people are able to do this to the point of having $100,000 in credit card debt, but the debt is actually cash which is earning them money in the bank. Use this calculator to determine how much you could earn from 0% balance transfers.

Credit cards should be paid in full each month

To get the most out of the benefits listed above, the credit card holder needs to pay the entire balance in full every month. When used properly, credit cards can be a very useful addition to someone’s life. When they are not used properly, credit cards can be BAD! In fact, I am an advocate of not using credit cards if that is not the best financial decision for your situation. Even though they do not have as many benefits as credit cards, I also think using debit cards can be a great way to make financial transactions. Always do your research, and please be financially responsible.

To finish off my public challenge:

The 10 reasons I listed above are benefits for me because I do not carry a credit card balance (I do not practice the “honorable mention” benefit, but it is worth noting). My wife and I have been blessed to have been able to put together a sufficient emergency fund, and we are able to use our credit cards for our purchases and pay them off in full every month. I won’t stop using my credit cards because for me, it is not a problem. In fact, doing so would cost me money.

In my opinion, everyone can benefit from having a credit card if they use it responsibly. The key here is responsible use. If you know you can’t handle it, or don’t think you can, then don’t do it.


Published or updated February 15, 2012.
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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ana

Ryan, you’ve written a very long response here, so it may take me a few days to get to all your points LOL But first up, let me say: most of your “benefits” I also get on my debit card that has a Visa logo on it, and all the same protections. More to follow.

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2 Pinyo

As much as I love Ana because she is an M-Network member, I have to agree with you on this one Ryan. I love my credit cards (although I couldn’t name the 10 benefits until today).

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3 Ryan

Hi Pinyo,

I agree. I make money with my cards. But, I also understand Ana’s point of view, as well as anyone that has or has had trouble with credit cards. If they aren’t for you, then stay away! :)

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4 marie

Ryan has made some good points.

But one excellent reason for not using credit cards is that most credit card companies are out to get your money. I believe that credit card companies cost more for customers in the long run. I think that credit card companies are going to come up with more and more tricks to get money from their customers, whether those user are responsible or not. And most people do have credit card debt- it’s all too easy to get in to, and I think only the most fiscally vigilant customers manage to stay out of credit card debt. It’s not fair when people claim that those with credit card debt are not “responsible” with their credit cards – it only takes one emergency for the need to arise to whip out a credit card.

But I do agree with Ryan that sometimes it is a good idea to use credit cards – especially for larger purchases and emergencies. Good post!

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5 Ryan

Hi Marie,

You bring up some great points, and I tried hard not to imply that those with credit card debt are not “responsible people.” I know that is not always the case.

In my opinion, credit cards companies have one mission statement: Make money. And they do it effectively and in a variety of manners.

I wrote this article as a guest writer for the personal finance blog, Five Cent Nickel: 5 Worst Credit Card Practices You can also add to the list that credit card companies have started changing the due dates on their bills without advance notice. Anything to make a buck.

There is a fine line, and I don’t recommend using credit cards unless you are certain you can pay them off right away, or in the event of an emergency that is greater than your emergency fund can handle. In the case of emergencies, using a credit card is much better than taking out a payday loan!

Thanks for the great comment. :)

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6 dong

I too love my credit cards. They’ve been a great boon to me. I think whenever someone makes general all encompassing statement like “credit cards are bad for everyone” they are bound to be wrong. Everyone is a different situation.

While I agree that some credit card company policies are downright slimy, credit cards and credit card companies in themselves are not evil. Yes they are trying to make money, but so is the neighborhood laundry mat. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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7 Ryan

Good point, Dong. That’s why I stressed that everyone is in their own situation. It would be wrong for me to say “everyone should use credit cards.” That is definitely not the case!

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8 Jason Dean

The idea that no one should have credit cards is not only foolish, it is downright harmful — both to individuals and to society.

A credit card is a wonderful thing — if you can manage your money responsibly. If not, then YOU are the problem, not the tiny piece of plastic. Work on YOU. And when you’re ready, get a credit card and enjoy the benefits of a consumer-driven market economy.

I’m biting down on my tongue pretty hard as I write this post, because I actually find the idea that “no one should use credit cards” to be deeply offensive. Ryan pointed out numerous reasons why credit cards are good, all of which are sound, but what’s lost here is that credit fuels the global economy and has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. People would literally starve to death in the wake of cause-and-effect events, worldwide, that would be unleashed by the autocratic decree that “credit cards are henceforth banned,” or even if that poisionous thinking grew too widespread.

Thanks for setting the original poster straight, Ryan.

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9 Ryan

Jason, I agree that our world’s economy is based upon credit. That much is a fact.

But, using credit cards is a personal decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ana’s blog, Debt-Free Revolution, is based upon her journey to get out of debt, and she writes primarily to an audience with similar priorities. For most people struggling to become debt free, using credit cards is probably not a good idea.

From her perspective, I understand where she is coming from. But, finances, like many other things are different for each individual and making a blanket statement doesn’t always work.

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10 Kevin

Couple of problems here:

3. Fraud on your cash. How would the fraudsters do that?

4. Once a dispute is brought to your bank’s attention, they usually will provisionally restore the disputed funds until the matter is resolved.

The rest I agree with, especially the honorable mention. Over the last year, I’ve made over $1,000 in interest with 0% loans off of my credit cards. It’s true, you really do need to know what you are doing, and watch things like a hawk.

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11 Ryan

Kevin,

#3. The original intent of this point was protection against theft and the fraud that can be made when your card or information is stolen. (I will edit the article to read fraud/theft protection). As for fraud I guess if you’re buying something out of the back of some guy’s truck and it turns out all you got was a box full of rocks, there would be no recourse. Of course, you shouldn’t be buying things from the back of someone’s truck anyway! ;)

#4. This depends completely on the bank. Many banks will do this, some may not. I would definitely check with your bank to determine their policy.

Thanks for the comment!

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12 William Brooks

This is a good post. Credit Cards are very powerful tools the problem is everybody can get one and they are so easy to abuse.

I personally have used credit cards for investments and I know people that have used credit cards to play with some interest rate arbitrage. These are advanced techniques, but pretty neat.

Credit Cards are currently saving my skin because I am receiving some nice 0% interest rates.

You really just need the strong education to learn to use them right.

Great Post!

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13 Ryan

William, the only investment I would do with a 0% balance transfer is a guaranteed investment like a savings account. If you are doing anything not guaranteed, that could end badly.

But I’m glad you liked the article. :)

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14 kitty

I actually find the idea that “no one should use credit cards” to be deeply offensive.
Me too. Especially because I am older and have used credit cards for over 20 years without ever carrying a balance. I do understand where Ana is coming from – some people may indeed be better off without credit cards at least until they learn to live within their means and get a very clear idea of what they can or cannot afford. Let’s not forget that more than third of credit card users pay their balances in full every month. This is a lot of people. Also statistics like “an average American is $X in debt” is misleading: one person with huge debt is enough to affect this statistics for a lot of people.

Kevin, in terms of fraud, while you may have no problems with cash, if you use a debit card and your number is stolen, the protection provided by credit cards is much stronger. Even when debit cards provide some protection, while your complaint is being investigated the money are taken from your account whereas with credit cards the disputed amount is in “limbo”. If someone uses your stolen debit card number and takes $1000 or more from your checking at around the time when your (automatic) mortgage payment is due, and you don’t notice the theft right away, you may have problems. With credit cards, the money are still in the bank.

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15 Benefits of credit card

I read all the 10 reasons and agree that credit card benefits in the times of emergencies. I met with many incidents where credit card benefited me lot.

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16 David

Some people will go as far to say they will only pay cash. But what if your money is earning 5% interest and you can finance at 2.5%? Lets use an example.

You have 100K earning 5% and want to buy a vehicle for 30K. Do you pull the 30K (which is earning 5% out and buy the car cash)

Why not leave the 30k earning 5% so you can finance 30K on the vehicle at 2.5% which nets you a positive 2.5% on that 30k until the vehicle is paid for.

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17 Ryan

David, that is a great idea, and something a lot of people do on a regular basis. In fact, this is basically what people do with credit card arbitrage, and borrow money on an introductory 0% offer, then stick in an interest bearing account and slowly pay it back – the whole time earning interest!

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18 deepali

There is a different between “credit” and “credit cards”. Microcredit, for example, is a useful tool in the third world, particularly in the hands of a benevolent lender. That is one reason why I like Prosper and Kiva.

But one major reason why credit cards are bad – using your credit card perpetuates the cycle of injustice (even if you don’t experience any direct harm). For the same ethical reasons I don’t eat meat or shop at Wal-Mart, I don’t like to use my credit cards: I don’t want to buy into the system.

That being said, not all credit card companies are bad. I am really impressed with American Express, for example – they make a concerted effort to take care of their customers.

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19 Ryan

deepali,

I admire your views on the social implications of credit cards, and I think there will always be issues with credit cards, credit card companies, and just about every major corporation. I also think an entire book could be written on the subject! Those topics are very much out of the scope of this blog and my expertise! Thanks for the comment. :)

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20 Dan

Ryan, I agree wholeheartedly with your article above.
However, I’m wondering about one potential drawback to using credit cards that nobody has mentioned at this point: When a purchase is made with a credit card, the credit card company assesses a percentage fee to the merchant/service provider. Doesn’t this fee get transferred to the end consumer in the form of higher prices? So using a credit card contributes to inflation of goods and services.
That said, I still use my plastic for all the reasons mentioned in the article.

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21 Ryan

Dan, Yes, the fee does get passed to the customer. In fact, some stores refuse credit cards as a way to keep down costs, or they will offer a discount for people who pay cash. But, if you are one of those people who use cash back or other rewards cards, you now know where your reward is coming from. Transaction fees of 3% or the norm and cash back rewards of 1% are common. That still leaves a healthy cut for the credit card company.

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22 Justin Long

#2 IS A FLAW!!!!

I strongly recommend to take Dave Ramsey’s FULL class, The very first step he teaches is to save $1000 ASAP AND Save 3-6 months of savings (which means add up all your total bills; rent, utilities, phone, gas, food,ect; things you need to survive) out of your monthly income then put in a savings account for 6 months , just in case you lose your job, get hurt, get laid off…. you will have up to 6 months of living expenses saved up to use until you can get back on your feet.

On the other hand, if you have no emergency savings, and you lost your job…..what good will a credit card do you? Because if I’m correct, you have to pay off you credit card balance at the end of each month, regardless of any situation. And if you have no job for several months, how will you pay it off?
So in the long run, tell me what is better? Credit Card, or No Credit Card?

I can also DEBUNK the rest of your list if you want me to Ryan, just shoot me an email and I’ll give you the better half of the argument.

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23 Ryan Guina

Thanks for your comment, Justin. I have taken Dave Ramsey’s full class. I enjoyed it for the most part, but there were a few of his points I will agree to disagree with, including his staunch opposition to credit cards. Credit cards are a financial tool, and if used properly, they can offer excellent benefits to the user. If used improperly, they can cause major financial issues. A similar argument can be made about guns, and I compare the two here: Credit Cards and Guns. I don’t own any guns and have no desire to own any guns. But guns in and of themselves are not evil or bad. They are simply tools. When used properly, they can do good things. When used improperly very bad things can happen.

To your points: I strongly agree with saving an emergency fund of $1,000, then 3-6 months of savings. But not everyone is there yet. $1,000 will cover many, but not all emergencies. If you don’t have the money, you need to get it somewhere. A credit card is a better solution than taking out a payday loan or other short term loan with extremely high interest rates. I do not encourage using a credit card instead of using an emergency fund. But it is a good supplement to not having enough money in your emergency fund, when considering the alternatives.

Regarding paying off credit cards, no your statement was not correct. You do not need to pay the balance of a credit card in full each month, although that is the preference to avoid finance charges. Credit cards allow you to make payments on purchases so you can stretch out a purchase over time. As long as you continue to make the minimum payments and don’t exceed your credit limit, you can continue to use the credit card. In an emergency this can help people make it through hard times – again, when used wisely. (Note: You may have been thinking of a charge card, which requires the cardholder to pay off the balance in full each month. Charge cards and credit cards are different.)

In the long run, what is better, credit card or no credit card? For me personally, and for many people I know, using credit cards responsibly is a much better option. I earned over $1,000 cash back last year on purchases I made with my credit cards. I have my credit cards on automatic payment and the funds are automatically withdrawn from my checking account each month. I don’t worry about my credit card number being stolen (I have it happen twice due to data breaches and through no fault of my own), because I am not liable for any of the stolen funds. If that happened to my debit card I would have immediately lost access to all of the stolen funds for as long as it took to finish the investigation – potentially causing serious financial issues.

On the flip side, I know many people who shouldn’t use a credit card for everyday purchases. I would recommend they keep one for emergencies, since it wouldn’t be tied directly to their bank account. But I would only make that recommendation if they would limit the use to emergencies.

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference and responsibility. I prefer to use a credit card and receive the rewards points and bonuses, and I am responsible enough to do so without changing my spending habits or make late payments (in fact, I engineered it so I can’t make late payments as I automatically deduct my charges from my bank account each month – and yes, I review my statement each month too). If you are against credit cards, I’ll be happy to agree to disagree.

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24 Justin Long

Man, their marketing has gotten stuck in your head. Maybe you don’t fully understand the emergency fund, if you do ill go over it anyway.

Say your monthly income is $3200

Your Emergency Fund Should Consist of the Following:

Transportation
Food
Shelter
Clothing

Here are your costs for that for the month:

Phone $50
Water $100
Electricity $115
Rent $550
Gas $250
Food $265
Hygienic Items $30

Total: $1360

Save the above total for 6 months or less depending on what is best for you:

So $1360 subtracted from $3200 TWICE is $480 (remember only do this once for 6 months ONLY)

$1360 saved up for 6 months is $8160
Next add the first $1000 to that so now you have:

$9160 SAVED UP In my book that will just about cover any emergency just short of an organ replacement.

And you could live off that for 6 months…..

yes doing this process might mean for 6 months or however long it takes, to cut the cable, satellite radio, eating out, movies, but you still would have that extra $480 left for entertainment, or clothing purposes…. my theory is PAY YOURSELF not the CREDIT CARD COMPANY. If you think, i don’t want to even have to worry about any payment regardless the cost at the end of each month….. what if you did lose your job? and all you have is a card? It just puts you in a hole that takes some time to get out of…. and ill admit payday loans are stupid as all get out and i would never get one…. so CASH in the long run provides better insurance

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