Debit or credit card?

DebitOrCreditWe have many options today for making purchases and payment today.  The recent Target retailer breach that affected millions of consumers sparks the question of whether it is safer to use debit or credit when making purchases and payments.  You have probably been asked ‘Debit or Credit?’ when paying for an item using a card.  Which one should you use?


Using cash can help with overspending.  You can set a limit and stop spending when you are out cash.  However, carrying around a large sum of cash is not always the best idea due to the risk of theft and paying cash for online payments is not an option.

Debit card

A debit card is tied to your checking or savings account and provides instant access to your money.  It is like using cash or check.  Funds are taken directly from your account and you don’t have to worry about paying the money back or incurring any interest.  Many ATM cards can be used as debit cards so be careful.  If someone got your PIN they could withdraw all of the money out of your account.  When dealing with fraud, you will have to figure out how to get your money back.  You are responsible for any bounced checks or automatic drafts.

Credit card

When using a credit card, a bank or other financial institution is actually paying the vendor and you agree to pay back the money and any interest incurred.  When dealing with fraud, you really only have to prove someone else used your card.  Check with your financial institution to understand your liability limit, if any.

What you can do

  • Routinely change debit PINs to limit the amount of time an attacker can use your card if the PIN is compromised.
  • Never share your PIN with anyone
  • Monitor your accounts regularly.  Report any suspicious charge regardless of the amount.
  • Contact your financial institutions to understand fraud liability protection programs your debit and credit cards may offer.
  • Check credit reports often.  You are entitled under federal law to obtain one free copy of your credit report once every year.

If you suspect a card has been compromised

  • Change online passwords and PINs used at ATMs and Pin pads immediately
  • Request replacement cards with new account numbers
  • Continue to monitor credit reports and accounts


Christina Bonds

Christina Bonds

Christina Bonds is an Application Developer in the Web Technology department at Elon University.

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