Person's hands holding a credit card and typing on a laptop keyboard.
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Credit cards add an extra layer of insulation when you're purchasing online in the form of chargebacks. However, they bring the risk of overspending, so you should weigh that possibility when deciding whether to use a credit card.

If you’re buying anything online, whether it’s physical products or digital subscriptions, you may be worried about scams, payment issues, or other shenanigans. There is a simple way to avoid a lot of these issues when paying online, and you likely already have it in your pocket: your credit card.

Credit Card Protections

Most credit cards, both in the United States and elsewhere in the world, offer a number of protections for online purchases, and most online stores accept credit cards. Using them and their protections should take the edge off any worries you may have about spending money online. That said, they’re not perfect, either, and if something does go wrong you will have to, at the very least, make a few phone calls to sort things out.

Also, please bear in mind that this isn’t financial advice—we’re a technology website, after all. We’re not endorsing any specific credit cards; we just want to make sure you have the maximum protection possible while shopping online.

The Power of Intermediaries

First up, using a credit card sets up a buffer. When you buy something with a card, you’re not actually using your own money, but the bank’s or credit card issuers. You’re on the hook for it when the end of the month rolls around, but until then it’s not yours. Debit cards are the opposite of that: if somebody gets their hand on those digits, then it very much is your money they’re spending.

This means that if your credit card information gets stolen somehow, the thieves aren’t using your money, they’re using the bank’s money. To make sure you don’t end up paying that bill, though, you need to show your credit card details got stolen. Assuming you can prove it wasn’t you buying gift cards and TVs, the credit card company will take the hit and you won’t have to worry about it.

Buyer Beware

Of course, outright theft of credit card information is only one of the many issues that can plague you online and, thanks to better security measures surrounding payments, is becoming rare. It’s much more common to have issues with a product you bought or a subscription you signed up for.

Examples include not quite receiving what you ordered via an online retailer, a subscription that you canceled but somehow still is active, or even just a faulty product of some kind. The list goes on, and not all examples are malicious, either: sometimes people just make a mistake.

Credit cards are great, here: if you use a debit card or money transfer, the money’s gone and you’re going to have to negotiate with the seller about getting your product replaced or your money returned. Use a credit card, though, and that job is taken care of by the credit card company.

Sure, you may have to wrangle them into doing something, but generally speaking your credit card has means of protecting you. For example, you can dispute a charge, also called a chargeback. Let’s say you make a purchase, and it’s not quite what you wanted or expected, and the seller isn’t being cooperative about a refund or return. You can ask your bank or credit card company to simply stop the charge from going through.

On top of that, most credit cards will give you extended warranties on any purchase you make. This means that you’ll not only add protection against possibly faulty products, you’re also making sure those protections last longer.

Of course, there are other reasons why using a credit card for online shopping is a smart idea: you can get rewards if you’re signed up to the right programs. Plus, if you’re in the US, smart use of your credit card can do wonders to boost your credit score.

Credit Card Issues

While there are many benefits, there are also risks involved with using credit cards. For example, using credit cards is really only worth it if you’re entirely sure you can meet your monthly payments. If you leave even a few small charges on your account at the end of the month, the interest starts charging and that’s very hard to get out from under.

There are also risks associated with spending money you don’t have. As NerdWallet explains, there is a psychological effect associated with credit cards that makes people spend more when they have one, regardless of whether they can make the payment. As a result, if you’re not sure that you have the discipline to use one wisely, you may want to stay away from credit cards.

After all, it’s not like there are no alternatives: you could simply use debit cards, cash, or even Apple Pay or Android Pay. In the end, you’ll have to weigh up the pros and cons of using credit cards yourself: the protections are great, but if the payments become too much, these perks may not be worth it.

RELATED: 8 Common PayPal Scams and How to Avoid Them

Profile Photo for Fergus O'Sullivan Fergus O'Sullivan
Fergus is a freelance writer for How-To Geek. He has seven years of tech reporting and reviewing under his belt for a number of publications, including GameCrate and Cloudwards. He's written more articles and reviews about cybersecurity and cloud-based software than he can keep track of---and knows his way around Linux and hardware, too.
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