Credit cards can sometimes get a bad rap. In fact, millennials say they fear credit card debt more than death (yikes!).1 Given that Americans hold roughly $800 million in credit card debt, it’s easy to see why.2 But when used responsibly—by those who can spend within their budget—credit cards can be incredibly advantageous and offer perks and rewards that allow you to live your best financial life.
Here’s a list of just some of the benefits that credit cards can offer.
1. Protection from unauthorized purchases
The number of U.S. fraud victims reached a record high of 15.4 million in 2016, for a total of roughly $16 billion in losses.3 But the average cost to the victims? Just $48, thanks to fraud protections governing credit cards.4
Some credit cards offer built-in protections that can cover you in case of fraudulent or unauthorized transactions. Bankrate.com chief financial analyst, Greg McBride, says this includes the ability to withhold payment on amounts in dispute.
2. Oh, and price guarantees, too
Yep, you read that right, but many people never use this superpower. Some credit cards offer a price guarantee or refund to cardholders who may buy an item with their card and find the same item at a lower price later.5 You’ll need to file a claim, and typically there are limits and exclusions to consider; still, this perk should save you time and stress from obsessive comparison shopping.
3. A lower rate = real savings
Believe it or not, credit cards can help improve your finances. With smart credit card usage, you can improve your credit score. And even better, you could actually save money using a credit card to pay off higher-interest rate debt. A card with a lower introductory annual percentage rate (APR), often offered to consumers with strong credit, may allow you to consolidate your debt from cards with higher interest rates, lowering your overall payments and getting you closer to a debt-free life a little sooner.
4. Global acceptance (how diplomatic!)
Want to buy that tea set in Tokyo? Or that bracelet in Morocco? As the popularity of credit cards increases worldwide, more and more retailers across the globe are accepting credit cards as forms of payment. Between 2015 and 2025, the use of general purpose credit cards is expected to surge by nearly 140 percent in Europe, 111 percent in Latin America, and almost 210 percent in Asia-Pacific nations.6
This means you don’t have to worry about places not accepting traveler’s checks (which have been in decline mode since the mid-90s) or carrying around too much cash that could easily get stolen.7 Just slip your card into your pocket and get ready for your next adventure. Even cooler? Many cards offer roadside assistance and emergency benefits while you satisfy your wanderlust.
5. Rewards (Duh.)
"At the top of the list are the rewards programs,” says McBride.
Rewards are a primary driver for choosing a credit card; 52 percent of credit card users said they would select a particular card for a better rewards program. And when asked what the most attractive feature of their credit card was, 54 percent say it was their rewards.8
Rewards programs offer cash back, frequent flyer miles, hotel points or another form of reward. But, McBride says, many cardholders don’t maximize the benefits they earn on reward cards. “Be strategic about which cards you use for different categories of spending—such as travel, dining out, gasoline or supermarkets—to maximize your return," McBride advises.