At least once a day, whether at the convenience store or making purchases online, we have to decide between using our bank check card as a debit or a credit. Both go through your checking account, but the difference comes from the way the charges are processed—immediately for debit or a couple days later for credit purchases.

So which is better? It really depends on the situation and the transaction. We have put together some general guidelines for each option to help ensure you get the most from your check card and keep your account secure.

The Debit Option

A debit card deducts the amount you’ve spent immediately from your checking account, like an ATM card you can use in a store. As a general usage rule, you should trust the stores you make debit purchases at because of the higher chances of tampering, as well as PIN theft. A good scenario for which to use a debit card is at a gas station or a hotel, where they might place a substantial hold on a card run as credit to insure against a drive-off or miscellaneous charges in the room. These holds would prevent access to the money in your account until they’ve been lifted.

The Credit Option

Credit charges are great for shopping online, delivery, and big-ticket purchases, for the purchase protection it offers from disputes, as well as hackers. Restaurant and other crowded places are also a good scenario for credit, because of the risk of giving out your PIN, as well as when you are booking future travel, renting something that requires a deposit. It is recommended to use credit for setting up recurring payments, so that your memory and/or math skills are not subject to overdraft fees.

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