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Like many people, I carry around a lot of plastic in my wallet. Yet one particular plastic payment method—my debit card—doesn't see much action. In fact, other than the occasional ATM withdrawal when I need access to cash, I haven't used my debit card in years.

There are several important reasons why I don't use my debit card for purchases. Below, I'll share why credit cards are my favorite way to pay, and why you might want to consider making them your preferred method of payment as well.

Credit Cards Offer Better Fraud Protection

One of the primary reasons I opt for credit cards is because they give me better fraud protection. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago.

Some bad guys stole my card information (likely after I used it at a gas station) and made over $2,000 in unauthorized transactions. My credit union didn't catch the fraud and allowed the phony charges to go through. I wasn't even aware there was a problem until I logged into my checking account several days later.

In the end, I did get the stolen money back but t I went through some major inconveniences first. My credit union took several days to investigate the fraud before they returned my money. In the meantime, I still had a mortgage payment, credit card payments and other bills due. Thankfully, I had money in savings to cover the expenses. If I hadn't, I might have incurred late fees, overdraft fees, and other penalties from my creditors.

If the thief had stolen my credit card information, on the other hand, my experience could have been a little less stressful. I would still have needed to alert the card issuer to the fraud. But it would have been the card issuer's money that was tied up during the investigation period, not my personal funds.

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Credit Card Protections Are Often Stronger

There's also the issue of liability. Federal law protects me from theft, card loss, or fraudulent transactions with both my debit card and credit cards. Yet the protections I enjoy when I use a credit card pack a little more punch:

  • The Fair Credit Billing Act caps my liability for fraudulent credit card transactions at $50. Plus, the four major credit card networks—VISA, MasterCard, American Express and Discover—have zero-liability policies that should keep me from paying a dime if my credit card is lost or stolen (assuming I report the fraud in a timely manner).
  • The Electronic Funds Transfer Act protects me in the event of debit card loss or theft. It caps my liability at $50 if I report a fraudulent purchase within two days. On day three, however, my liability could climb to a painful $500. And if I wait more than 60 days (after my statement) to report the fraud, the bank could hold me liable for 100% of the bogus charges.
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Credit Cards Give Me Rewards

Another important reason I always reach for a credit card when I'm in the checkout line is because I like free stuff. Over the years, I've added some great rewards credit cards to my wallet. By using credit cards on purchases I need to make anyway, I've been able to earn some lucrative rewards. I've also been able to redeem those rewards for pretty cool perks, such as my favorite way to use credit card rewards—free travel.

It's worth noting that some debit cards may offer cash back or rewards (like some of the offers in this list of the best high-yield checking accounts). However, you can generally get a lot more value from your spending from rewards credit cards.

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Credit Cards Help Me Build Good Credit

Credit cards also outperform debit cards when it comes to the ability to help you establish and build good credit. When you open a credit card account, most card issuers will report it to the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. If you use your credit card wisely, it could help you add positive credit history to your three credit reports and, over time, might also benefit your credit scores.

Personally, I have a dozen credit cards and I routinely keep my credit scores in the 800s. But it takes a careful, consistent credit card management approach to achieve this feat. Here's how I do it:

  • I always pay on time: This is the main key to credit score success—with credit cards and any other type of financial obligation.
  • I aim to pay my statement balance in full every month: Revolving an outstanding balance from month to month is expensive and may cause credit score damage.
  • I am selective about applying for new credit: While I'm not afraid to leverage my good credit to score a good deal (especially an attractive credit card sign-up bonus), I do limit how often I apply for new credit.

By comparison, debit cards and bank accounts don't show up on my credit reports. So, they don't come with the same credit-building potential, even if I practice good money management habits.

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Bottom Line

Critics argue that credit cards are dangerous and lead to debt. Yet the truth is you are in control of how you use your debit cards and credit cards. If you can avoid overspending, there are a lot of amazing perks that these little pieces of plastic have to offer.

ML

Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Black is founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com. Michelle is a leading credit card journalist with over a decade and a half of experience in the financial industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, small business, and debt eradication. Michelle is also a certified credit expert witness and personal finance writer.