How Credit Cards Work

How Credit Cards Work

A credit card can help you build credit, make convenient payments, and meet everyday expenses in your life. Using credit cards is a convenient way to pay for products and services in person and online. On top of that, your credit cards can earn rewards such as cashback, points, or miles on purchases you would have made anyway.

At the same time, you can also use credit cards to build a credit history through healthy financial habits. While Credit cards and Debit cards may look similar, they work very differently. If you’re new to using credit, there are a few important credit card facts to know. 

Of course, letting your credit card spending get out of control can lead to mounting debt, excessive interest charges, late fees, and bad credit.

Getting an understanding of how credit cards work can teach you about the benefits of having one over a debit card. Knowing how credit cards work provides useful insight into managing your debt more responsibly. Responsible spending will also help you to build your credit along the way.

Here’s everything you need to know about how your credit card works. Some Important Key Takeaways Are Given Below:

  • Credit cards have a credit limit you can make purchases against the given amount. Then you have to repay at a later date.
  • Carrying a balance on a credit card can trigger interest charges. 
  • It’s important to read the fine print closely on credit card promotional offers that are provided to you.
  • Some credit cards allow you to earn rewards on purchases done through the credit card in the form of points, miles, or cash back.

NOTE: – Credit cards can be secured or unsecured. A secured credit card requires a cash deposit to open, which typically doubles as your credit limit.

How Credit Cards Work

Credit cards can be used to make purchases online or in stores and pay bills. When you use a credit card for any case then your card details are sent to the merchant’s bank. The bank then gets authorization from the credit card network to process the transaction. Your card issuer then has to verify your information and either approve or decline the transaction.

If the transaction is approved, the payment is made to the merchant, and your card’s available credit is reduced by the transaction amount. At the end of your billing cycle, your card issuer will send you a statement showing all the transactions for that month, your previous balance and new balance, your minimum payment due, and your due date.

The grace period given by the bank or issuer to you is nothing but the period between the date of purchase on your card and the due date listed on your statement. During this period if you pay your bill in full by the due date, no interest charges accrue. 

But in case you carry a balance month to month, your card issuer can charge you interest. Your credit card’s annual percentage rate or APR reflects the cost of carrying a balance on an annualized basis. Your APR includes both your interest rate and other costs, such as an annual fee if your card has one.

Most credit cards have a variable APR that’s tied to the Prime Rate. This means your card’s APR can change over time, though the CARD Act of 2009 sets strict guidelines on when credit card companies can and can’t raise your rate.

But if you are late on making payments up to 60 days to your credit card can trigger a penalty APR, which can approach the 30% range.

What Is A Credit Card?

A credit card definition is a physical card that can be used to make purchases, pay bills, or depending on the card or even you can withdraw cash. The simplest way to think of a credit card is as a type of short-term loan.

When you open a credit card account then your credit card issuer/company gives you a set credit limit on your credit card. This is essentially an amount of money the credit card company allows you to use to make purchases or pay bills. Your available credit is reduced as you charge things to the card. You then pay back what you spent from your credit limit to the credit card issuer/company. 

Types of Credit Cards

There are several types of credit cards, with the biggest category being rewards cards. Rewards credit cards can include travel-related rewards earned for purchases. As well, you may earn more rewards for spending in certain categories. Many reward cards are co-branded with certain airlines or hotels.

Similar to rewards cards are cash back cards, which offer a certain level of cashback such as 2% or 6% for spending. Secured credit cards are for those looking to build or rebuild their credit. If your credit profile is thin, you may be able to get a secured card, which requires a security deposit that is held as collateral by the issuer.

Pros and Cons of Credit Cards

The biggest advantage of using a credit card is the ease of use and safety. If your card is lost or stolen you will likely be reimbursed for any fraudulent charges. You will also get rewards or cash back with most cards, which is a free incentive to use the card. Credit cards can also help boost your credit score if used responsibly.

Ease of use High interest and fees 
Safer than cashPotential debt spiral 
Rewards and cash back Can hurt credit if payments are missed
Can boost credit score 

Differences between Credit Cards and Debit Cards

Credit cards and debit cards look nearly identical, but in practice, they are not. Debit and credit cards are both used to pay for goods or services without paying in cash or writing a cheque. The difference between the two is where the money to pay for the purchase comes from and this will impact or not your credit score, your liability when it comes to fraud, and the potential to earn rewards on everyday purchases.

Some important differences between credit cards and debit cards are described below:

[1.] A debit card uses the money that is in your bank account whereas a credit card uses the issuer’s given you as a limit.

When you purchase with your credit card, you are borrowing money from your card issuer. You don’t have to use your own money until you pay your credit card bill.

However debit cards are linked to your checking account. When you purchase goods or services with your debit card, money is automatically transferred from your bank account the moment you complete the transaction. You don’t have a bill to pay later because your account already paid for the transaction.

[2.] The use of credit cards will impact your credit score; using debit won’t.

Creditors report your credit card payments to the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Using your credit card responsibly and paying your bill on time each month can help you build good credit. On the other hand, paying your bill late or missing a payment can hurt your credit score. FICO credit scores, for instance, calculate your scores based on:

  • Credit Usage of the given limit
  • Done Payment History
  • Credit Age
  • Credit Mix
  • Inquiries For New Credit Card

Debit cards have no impact on your credit score positive or negative because you pay for your purchases when the transaction is processed. Card issuers never report debit card activity to the credit bureaus. Debit cards do come with their fee structures, however, such as overdraft fees.

[3.] Credit cards offer better protection against the happening of fraud.

As you know both credit and debit cards limit your liability for fraudulent purchases, there are subtle differences between the protections you’ll get from each card type. The key difference between debit and credit cards lies in fraud protection. Federal law offers more fraud protections for credit cards than debit cards. This chart highlights your liability for unauthorized transactions with debit and credit cards.

[4.] You can earn rewards with credit cards

Another major difference between credit cards and debit cards is the potential to earn rewards. Many of the best credit cards incentivize cardholders to use their cards by offering rewards on purchases. Rewards rates vary by card, and some cards offer no rewards at all, but they come in a variety of forms including cash back, airline miles, statement credits, and more.

When it comes to debit cards, you don’t run the risk of added interest, but you also don’t earn rewards for the purchases you make.

Fees Related to the Credit Cards

With almost all types of credit cards, you come across various fees not just including the interest rate. Other fees can include balance transfer fees, or fees charged for transferring your balance to another card. This fee is usually a percentage of the balance transferred, such as 2%. 

There may be also over-limit fees, which are charged if you go over your card’s limit. Of course, there are late fees, which are charged if you don’t make the minimum payment by the due date.

NOTE: – If a credit card holder is late on a payment, the bank/issuer may also revoke any introductory rate you had.

Advantages of a Credit Card

There are so many benefits of having and using a credit card.

  • Credit cards give you extra time to pay for all purchases done to you. At each end of your monthly credit card cycle, you will receive a bill stating how much you owe for purchases made in the last 30 days. Depending on when you made the purchase, you have up to a few weeks to pay your credit card bill. Technically, you are only required to pay the minimum fee each month but this could lead to future debt hence a better helpful tip is to pay off as much as you can each month to earn better credit and avoid building up debt.
  • Credit card use builds your credit history. Each time you purchase something by using your credit card and then pay it off on time while doing your credit history will build up. Building good credit is important when you are taking out a loan, buying a car or house, etc. Paying off your credit card bill each month will show that you are capable of paying off debt and can help increase your credit score.
  • Convenient for future use in any emergencies. Having a credit card is very useful and convenient when there is an emergency. If you suddenly need to pay for a repair in your house, you can put the charge on your credit card. In this case, you probably did not plan for this expense, so your credit card company will extend your credit until you pay the bill at the end of the month. Again, this gives you a little extra time to pay for something you were not expecting to pay.

How You Can Compare Credit Cards That Suit You In Better Ways?

Suppose you are in the market for your first credit card or your next credit card, it’s important to do some comparison shopping. Some of the key things to look for when comparing credit cards include:

  • Regular variable APR for all purchases made.
  • APR for balance transfers and cash advances.
  • Promotional APR terms & conditions applied.
  • Annual fees.
  • Rewards programs.
  • Terms & conditions made on the introductory bonus offer.

It’s also helpful to look at the card’s other benefits and features if any. If a card has an annual fee, it’s helpful to compare the value of rewards and benefits to the fee to decide if it’s worth it.

Why Anyone Should Use a Credit Card

Overall, the pros of having and using a credit card outweigh the cons (for most people). They will help you to build a Free Credit Score with Credit Karma if you use them responsibly. Good credit helps lower the interest rates you will pay for other loans, such as home or car loans. Credit cards can also help with budgeting, either through the budgeting tools the issuer offers or by allowing you to track and categorize spending. 

As you know credit cards tend to offer rewards or cash back. If you have a high amount of spending, such as on dining out or flights, you can take advantage of cards that offer high rewards rates in those categories. 

But one of the biggest reasons to use a credit card (over, say, cash or a debit card) is fraud protection. If there are fraudulent charges made on your card, or if it’s lost or stolen then in this case you are protected from fraud liability. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Are the Main Differences Between Credit and Debit Cards?

You’re essentially borrowing money to make purchases when you use a credit card. Any balance not paid back during the billing month accrues interest that must be paid. But your Debit cards are linked to a bank account. When you purchase with your debit card, the money is automatically deducted from your bank account as soon as the transaction is processed.

How Does a Person Shop for Credit Cards?

Comparison shopping is how you find the best card for you. Here you have to compare things such as regular variable APR for purchases; APR for balance transfers and cash advances; promotional APR terms and conditions; annual fees, rewards, and more.

How Do Credit Cards Work In Simple Terms?

Credit cards offer you a line of credit that can be used to make purchases, balance transfers, and/or cash advances and require that you pay back the loan amount in the future. When using a credit card, you will need to make at least the minimum payment every month by the due date on the balance

Is Early Payment Done For Credit Bill Good?

By making an early payment before the billing cycle ends, you can reduce the balance amount the card issuer reports to the credit bureaus. And that means your credit utilization will be lower, as well. This can mean a boost to your credit scores.


Credit cards can be a credit-building tool if used responsibly. Paying your bill on time, maintaining a low balance, and only opening credit cards can help you build and maintain good credit. Also, keep in mind that the best way to avoid interest charges and build a strong credit score is by paying your bill in full each month.

The key difference between debit and credit cards lies in fraud protection. Federal law offers more fraud protections for credit cards than debit cards. This chart highlights your liability for unauthorized transactions with debit and credit cards.

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