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Credit vs. Cash: Which is Better?

[Thursday, October 16th, 2014]

There’s a lot of talk these days about virtual wallets and the possible future extinction of both cash and credit cards. But that seems like a pretty faint possibility. Most people still depend on both cash and credit quite heavily, and virtual wallets are far from becoming the usual method of payment for most people.

While we are all still relying on cash and credit cards, here’s a question: which one is better? Here are the pros and cons of both cash and credit cards—and the reason why we won’t be giving up either one anytime soon.

Cash

They say cash is king, and it’s true: nothing beats the feeling of having cash in your hand. Whether you’re buying a house with cash, handing a fistful to a friend to buy drinks, or keeping it under your mattress, there’s just something powerful about cash.

However, cash has its down side, too. If you lose cash, or it is stolen, there’s no way to get it back. Unlike a credit card, which has a zero liability policy to protect you in case of loss or theft, cash is gone when it’s gone. Although having cash can put you in a good position to negotiate a deal, it also puts you at risk. It’s good to have cash around, but maybe not too much cash.

Credit

Handing a platinum credit card over to pay your dinner bill used to impress people. And maybe it still does, in some circles. But generally, having a credit card isn’t a symbol of prestige any longer. Almost all of us have a credit card, a debit card, a prepaid card, or some other form of plastic we can use as payment. So, what’s the advantage of credit?

Even though people can get in over their heads using credit and end up in debt, it’s extremely useful to be able to put a purchase on a credit card and pay it back over time. It’s also handy to just bring one piece of plastic along in your wallet, instead of packing it with cash.

Then there’s the question of earning rewards. Spending cash doesn’t give you any points, frequent flyer miles, or cash back. There could be a discount given for cash payments at some smaller merchants, but most places don’t do this. The opportunity to earn valuable rewards for making everyday purchases gives credit cards an edge over cash.

If you’re concerned about security, credit cards are the way to go, too. If someone steals your credit card information, you can contact the issuer and have the card frozen. Because of zero liability policies, you won’t be responsible for any charges the thief incurred. If your cash is stolen, you’re out of luck.

The Winner

With cash getting just two short paragraphs, and credit getting four, it might be easy to see which form of payment comes out ahead. There are reasons to love cash, but it just can’t give you all that credit cards can. Used responsibly, credit cards are a financial tool that offers much more than plain old cash.

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