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Bottom Line Up Front

  • When you use a debit card to pay in a store, you may be asked “debit?” or “credit?” It may not be obvious what the difference is.
  • Choosing debit generally means the transaction clears faster, while credit may offer you more consumer protections.
  • Whether you pick a debit or credit transaction, neither will help or hurt your credit score. 

Time to Read

3 minutes

May 1, 2022

Skim milk or 2%? Brand or off-brand? White bread or wheat bread? Shoppers have to make a lot of choices. One decision that can be confusing is whether you should choose debit or credit at checkout when using your debit card

The checkout process feels similar whether you choose credit or debit—in both cases, the money is funded by your checking account. But how the cards work behind the scenes is very different. 


  • You’ll be prompted to enter your personal identification number (PIN).
  • Funds are transferred from your bank account straight to the vendor. The funds will come out of your account right away. 
  • You can’t stop any payments because the money comes out of your account immediately. If funds aren’t available in your account, your credit union or bank could pay the charge, and you could end up paying overdraft fees. 
  • You can usually get cash back during the transaction because the money comes out of your bank account immediately. 


  • Your signature is often required when you use credit. In some instances, your signature won’t be required, such as when the total is below a certain threshold.
  • The transaction goes through your cardholder’s network, so it may take a few days before funds are removed from your account. 
  • Depending on the bank, you can handle disputes with an extra level of protection because some card networks may offer protections, such as fraud protection, as long as you choose credit when you swipe.
  • Since the transaction takes a few days to complete, cash back is not offered.

In Some Ways, the Same

In some ways, the choice between debit and credit in debit card transactions doesn’t matter. In either case, you don't have to worry about late fees, monthly payments or interest charges because you’re using money in your checking account. Also, neither choice has any impact—good or bad—on your credit score or credit history because there’s no line of credit involved. So even choosing credit at the register won’t help you build credit.

So Which to Choose?

When the time comes to push debit or credit, which should you choose? It depends on what’s important to you. If you want extra cardholder protections, choosing credit would probably be better. But choosing debit will probably settle the transaction faster and, in some cases, will cost the merchant less in fees.

Ultimately, the decision is yours. And, now that you know the difference between choosing debit and credit, you can trust that you’re making the right choice for you. 

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This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.