Waitress hands couple a card reader with credit card in slot.

What Are the Pros of Credit Cards vs. Cash?

Last Updated: November 14, 2023
4 min read

Key Points About: The Pros and Cons Of Cash Vs. Credit Cards

  1. Paying with paper money can encourage mindful spending and budgeting habits, but cash lacks the convenience of credit cards, like making purchases online.

  2. Credit cards have greater security than cash and may give cash back rewards.

  3. Interest charges can stack up if you don't pay off your credit card balance each month, and there might be fees for late payments.

There's a lot to consider when comparing the benefits of using a credit card to the benefits of paying with cash. Each payment type has advantages and disadvantages, so you'll need to weigh your options to decide what's right for you.

Credit Card Cash
Can be used for online purchases and booking travel accommodations. Physical cash may not be accepted at certain businesses and can only be used in person.
Most earn rewards, like cash back or travel parks. No rewards.
Typically safer than carrying cash, and offers protection from unauthorized purchases if lost or stolen. No built-in fraud protection. If cash is lost or stolen, it's hard to recover.
Available for emergency or unplanned expenses. You can only cover the expense if you have the cash available.
Using a credit card can help you build credit. Doesn't build your credit, which may limit access to credit in the future.
Helps to budget and track expenses by providing a detailed spending record. Can go unrecorded and lead to missed expenses when budgeting and planning.

The pros and cons of cash

Credit cards are popular in today's modern world. And while there are advantages to paying with plastic, there are also benefits to making purchases with physical cash in hand. Here are some of the pros and cons:


No interest charges. There are no additional charges when you pay with cash. If you don't pay off a credit card purchase within 30 days, you'll likely pay interest (a monthly percentage charged on the amount you borrow from a creditor). Steering clear of interest by paying with cash can help you save money. 

Promotes careful spending. Swiping a credit card (or even a debit card) is easy. But withdrawing and handling physical cash can make you more aware of your spending and how much is in your checking account or savings account. Some people feel counting and handling money makes them appreciate their savings more and be less likely to overspend.

Makes it easier to follow a budget. Cash can help you to stick to a budget. If you resolve to spend a fixed amount per week, it may be easier to stay within your limit by withdrawing that amount in cash and only paying with it.


Less Secure. Cash is less secure than a credit card. Unlike credit cards, if you lose physical money or have it stolen, there's no way to recover your losses.

Less Convenient. You can't always use cash as a payment method. Credit cards offer conveniences that cash just can't, such as making purchases online and booking flights, hotels and rental cars.

Your cash savings may not cover certain expenses. You may not have enough cash to cover unexpected costs. Life is unpredictable, and so are certain expenses. If something comes up, like a surprise trip to the doctor's office, the cash in your pocket might not cover that co-pay.

The pros and cons of credit cards

In an increasingly digital landscape, a credit card can be a more versatile and reliable form of payment, but there are also drawbacks to credit card spending.


Did you know?

Fraud protection. Credit cards provide security. If you lose paper money, chances are it's gone for good. But credit cards have you covered in a few ways. You can cancel a lost or stolen credit card, and thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you're protected from fraudulent charges (anything over $50).


Your credit card company may even provide additional fraud protection. Discover offers a $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee, which means you're never responsible for unauthorized purchases on your Discover Card.1

Rewards credit card benefits. Credit card issuers may offer cards with cash back rewards. You spend; you get a reward. It's that easy. For example, with the Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card you can earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places you shop each quarter, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate.

A credit card payment can help cover surprise costs. Credit cards can help you pay for emergency expenses you may not have the cash in your bank account to cover, from costly repairs to unexpected medical bills.

Cash advance. If you absolutely need cash for an expense, a credit card may still be the solution. Some credit cards offer a cash advance you can use for any expense. It’s easy to access cash with your Discover card.

Build good credit history. Using a credit card can help you build credit. If you use your credit card responsibly and pay your credit card bill on time, you can improve your credit score, which can help you qualify for better terms on loans in the future.


Interest charges. Credit cards require discipline. If you spend more than you can afford to pay back each month, you can accumulate interest. When interest on a purchase adds up, the expense can increase well beyond the original purchase price.

Annual Fee. Among major credit card issuers, some credit cards come with an annual fee. Discover has No Annual Fee on every credit card.

Missed payment fees. If you lose track of the payment due date on your credit card bill, you may miss a payment and incur late fees. Late fees can lead to a lower or bad credit score.

Credit card debt. It may be easy to overspend when using a credit card. Overcharging or maxing out your credit limit could lead to unmanageable credit card debt, a bad credit score, and other financial problems.

Cash or credit card use

Understanding the advantages of credit cards and cash can strengthen your financial health and weighing the cons can help you decide which is best to use. The ideal payment method ultimately depends on your individual needs and personal preferences.

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  1. $0 Fraud Liability: An “unauthorized purchase” is a purchase where you have not given access to your card information to another person or a merchant for one-time or repeated charges. Please use reasonable care to protect your card and do not share it with employees, relatives, or friends. Learn more at Discover.com/fraudFAQ.
  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.