Managing Credit

Credit vs. Debit: Make the Most of the Cards You Carry

When to use one over the other, based on how you spend

Credit and debit cards may look nearly identical—and do a lot of the same things—but understanding their differences can help you spend smarter and save money. A recent survey found that while 33 percent of respondents opt for credit cards, 44 percent of respondents prefer to use debit cards, but many people have (and use) both.1 As you make daily spending decisions, it’s important to know how these payment types differ, and when you might use one over the other. 

Credit cards are best for...

Man at coffee shop handing credit card to cashier

Rewards, rewards, rewards

Airline miles, hotel stays, cash back, discounts at your favorite clothing store … no matter which reward program you use, be sure to take advantage of the benefits. Nearly one-third of cardholders who earn rewards never spend them.2 If you think a rewards card fits your lifestyle, consider what rewards you’ll benefit from most and weigh any annual fees.

Help building your credit history

Credit cards can be an easy way to start building (or improving) your credit history and score, especially if you don’t have a car loan or a mortgage. But remember: Managing your credit cards responsibly is critical. If you miss payments or rack up significant credit card debt, it can have a negative impact on your score.

Fraud protection

Credit cards offer protection from unauthorized purchases if your card is lost or stolen. Many cards also come with lock/unlock controls, which allow you to instantly prevent any new transactions if you misplace your card or if you just want to put a hold on spending.

Purchase protection (and more)

Some credit cards offer price protection—if you find the same product at a lower price within a specified period, you can request a refund of the difference.3 Other benefits could include extended warranties on large purchases, insurance on rental cars, and even travel and roadside assistance.

Debit Cards are best for...

Man carrying shopping bags walking down the street looking at his cell phone

Keeping your spending in check

If you manage your money with a budget, you may prefer to rely on your debit card, which pulls money directly from your checking account. Be sure to keep track of your balance—online and mobile banking tools make it easy—to reduce the risk of overdrawing your account.

Saving you an annual fee

There is typically no annual fee for debit cards, unlike many credit cards. In fact—the average annual credit card fee (among cards that charge fees) was $147 in 2018.4

Access to cash

Sometimes, you just need cash—think tips or parking. With a debit card, you have easy access to your money. And if you swipe your card at an in-network ATM, you probably won’t pay a transaction fee, either.

Protection features (and even rewards!)

Surprising but true—many debit cards offer protection benefits similar to credit cards. Features like protection from unauthorized purchases, lock/unlock controls and extended warranties. Some card issuers even link debit card transactions to airline miles or cash back rewards.


Using your cards responsibly—whichever type and combination makes sense for you—can help you spend, save, and build up your credit history with confidence.

What's the best option for the way you spend?

Do some research before deciding what SunTrust card—credit, debit, or both— works best for your situation.

1 “Payment method statistics,” May 30, 2018,

2 “3 in 10 Have Never Redeemed Credit Card Rewards,” April 12, 2017, Bankrate

3 “Price Protection: Which Credit Cards Will Refund a Price Drop?” Dec. 11, 2018, NerdWallet

4 “Average Credit Card Annual Fees – 2018,” 2018, ValuePenguin 

This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.