Card mania: making sense of credit, debit, secured, charge & store cards

GSE Money in the Making

Tweet this article       Share this article on Linkedin       Share this article on Facebook       Email this article   

In this era of instant gratification and digital transactions, knowing your way around different payment methods is not just a party trick; it's a crucial life skill. Cash is no longer king. And unless you have a role in a 1950’s movie, odds are you’re not going to be whipping out a checkbook at the grocery store. That means your choices when it comes to card payments can make or break your financial well-being. The first choice you have to make? To figure out what kind of card is right for you.

So let's break down the key differences and advantages of debit cards, secured credit cards, charge cards, credit cards, and store cards. And especially if you’re new to the card game, be sure to check out our article on how to build credit here.


Debit cards

Say hello to your financial sidekick, the debit card. It's like having your personal ATM on hand 24/7. With a debit card, you can make purchases and withdraw cash from your bank accounts with relative ease. One major advantage? You can only spend what you have in your account, so it's a budgeting champion. Just keep in mind that debit cards offer limited protection against unauthorized transactions and fraudulent charges, and if you end up charging more than you have in your account, you’ll probably have to pay what’s called an overdraft fee. But overall, debit cards are perfect for rising stars who want to keep track of their spending and avoid accumulating debt.


Pro Tip:

Download your bank's app and set up notifications for account activity. This way you'll receive real-time alerts for transactions, ensuring you're always aware of your spending and any potential unauthorized activity. Plus, most apps will also allow you to easily track your expenses, set savings goals, and manage your finances on the go.

Secured credit cards

If you don’t have a credit profile yet (or if you have a less than ideal credit history), securing traditional credit cards might be challenging. That's where secured credit cards come into play. These cards require an initial cash deposit as collateral, which typically becomes your credit limit. So if you were to deposit $2,000, you’d be able to charge $2,000 max to the card. But just make sure you still make on-time payments and keep balances low, because that’s how you can help improve your credit score over time.


Pro Tip:

If you don’t have any credit history yet, another avenue to consider is to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account. As long as it’s someone who pays their bills on time, you’ll piggyback on their credit success and start building your own too. And if you’re really trying to build credit quickly, consider having your utility company report your bill payments to your credit bureaus (as long as you’re paying them in full and on time every month).

Charge cards

Time to meet the no-nonsense coach in your financial lineup: the charge card. Think of it as the financial boot camp that keeps you in tip-top financial shape. With a charge card, you're expected to pay off the full balance each month — no exceptions. On the other hand, charge cards often come with perks like flexible spending limits that can be adjusted based on your financial profile. But here's the deal: if you miss the payment deadline, you might face late fees and a bruised credit history. And the card issuer might even suspend or cancel your account. So, if you're a rockstar at managing your finances and want to avoid the temptation of long-term debt, charge cards could be your secret weapon.


Pro Tip:

Consider setting up automatic payments for your full balance each month. It's like having a personal assistant taking care of your finances. You'll never miss a due date, you’ll avoid late fees and you will also maintain a stellar credit history. Just remember to regularly ensure you have sufficient funds in your bank account to cover the full amount.


Credit cards

If a charge card is a secret weapon, then a credit card is a double-edge sword. On the one hand, credit cards offer you a revolving line of credit, and that can be a game-changer because it allows you to make purchases that you’re only expected to actually pay once a month — which can be helpful if your income is sporadic. Another plus, they often offer reward points that can add up to some serious savings over time. But credit cards aren’t just good for buying stuff; they can help you build credit history too — and that can open doors to future opportunities (like when you’re trying to buy a home). But be warned: Credit cards can be a slippery slope. Not only do some carry pricey annual fees that negate the benefits, they also might tempt you to splurge when you really shouldn’t, making it all too easy to rack up high-interest debt. So if you do open a credit card account, be sure to pay your bill in full every month to dodge those pesky interest charges.


Pro Tip:

Along with paying your bill in full every month, aim to keep your credit utilization below 30%. In other words, if your credit card maxes out at $9,000, try not to use more than $3,000 at any one time. Use more than that, and your credit score might take a hit.

OPT 1: store cards

If you’ve always wanted special perks to your favorite store — no coupon clipping required — then a store card may be for you. For a loyal shopper, store cards can offer fantastic benefits like exclusive discounts, rewards programs, and special promotions tailored to your favorite retailers. But like all the cards on this list, they come with a few caveats. Most importantly, they're limited to specific retailers, so you won't be able to use them everywhere. Also, watch out for the higher interest rates that some store cards carry. They still affect your credit score, and not paying your bill on time can hurt you in other areas of your financial life. But if you frequent a particular store and love the idea of getting a good deal, store cards might be your ticket to shopping nirvana.


Pro Tip:

Before signing up for a store card, compare the benefits and terms with other credit cards available to you. Some common terms include the annual fee, APR (i.e. the annual interest rate on the card), credit limit, and late fee. Then, ensure that the rewards and terms align with your shopping habits and financial goals.


For rising stars, cracking the code of the card game is crucial for healthy finances. And the first step is to assess your needs and choose a card type that aligns with your goals. Then, be sure to spend responsibly, pay bills on time, and avoid high-interest debt. If you’re looking to build credit, be sure to pay your credit card balance in full every month and keep credit utilization low. Lastly, look around for cards with rewards that fit your lifestyle and regularly review your card portfolio. By making informed decisions and using your cards responsibly, you'll pave the way for financial success and security. So embrace the power of plastic, be smart with your choices, and embark on your journey to financial empowerment. After all, money is more than just currency — it's a ticket to achieving your dreams.