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Credit vs. debit: What’s the difference?

Credit and debit cards may look similar, but their features and uses are very different. Knowing when and how to use each can help you build a stronger credit history while keeping your debt levels down.

How they work

Credit card Debit card
Origin of funds You borrow money from a lending institution and pay back some or all of it each month. Money comes directly out of your checking account.
How funds are deducted When your card is used, the credit card company pays the vendor for the purchase. When your card is used, the funds are transferred from your account.
Access to funds You have a limit on how much you can borrow, typically based on your creditworthiness. You can access only the money available in your account or you may face potential fees.

How they affect your finances

Credit card Debit card
Spending You can make a purchase even if you don’t have available funds at the time of purchase, so it can be easy to go over budget. Spending limits are even more concrete, which may help you to keep your budget.
Potential charges Interest is charged if you don’t pay your balance in full. You may also be charged for making late payments. There are no interest charges. But you may be charged fees for withdrawing more than what’s in your account.
Perks Many cards offer rewards such as frequent flyer miles, cash back or gift cards. You can often get cash back at points of sale.
Credit score On-time payments could bolster your credit score. Doesn’t affect your credit history. So use won’t help – or hurt – your credit score.


Credit card Debit card
Fraud protection Since funds aren’t withdrawn immediately, you may be protected from fraud or theft. If you misplace your card, you may be able to temporarily lock it via mobile or online banking. You may be asked to enter a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to authorize purchases. If you misplace your card, you may also be able to temporarily lock it via mobile or online banking.
Liability if lost or stolen Most cards have $0 liability protection for fraudulent purchases. You may report the theft/loss in a timely manner to dispute fraudulent charges. $50 maximum if you notify the bank within two days of learning the card is missing. After that, liability may increase to $500. Notice must be given within 60 of your statement being sent to you. After 60 days, the liability is unlimited.Nota de pie de página1
Reimbursement You may be reimbursed for goods that are damaged in transit. If goods are damaged, you likely need to deal with the merchant.
  1. Source: Federal Trade Commission

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It pays to know the pros and cons of each card type so you can choose the appropriate one with confidence.

Confused by the wide array of credit card choices out there? Here’s how to find the right credit card for you.

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The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial, tax or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its affiliates, and Khan Academy, assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional and tax advisor when making decisions regarding your financial situation.

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