In the past exchanging cash was one of the few ways that you could pay someone for goods and services. Today there are many different ways of making a payment and it can become confusing. It is important to know which payment type is most appropriate for your situation as it can save you time and hassle and can, in some cases, even save you money. Using a particular payment type may also come with added benefits that other types may not offer. Cash is still widely used but many people choose to use different payment methods for regular or larger payments. A popular method is to pay with a debit or credit card. What are these cards and how do they work? This article looks at the important differences between the two that should be taken into account when picking a payment method. A debit card is essentially a direct line to your current account, it is much like withdrawing cash from your account and using it to pay for something but without the need to withdraw any money. In the mid-80s many people were using cheques to pay for things because they reduced the need to pay large amounts in cash. Cheques, however, are expensive for banks to process and banks began to issue debit cards to dissuade people from overusing cheques. Debit cards are useful because they not only allow you to withdraw cash from your account while you are out and about but also can be used as a direct payment method. Because the money is taken directly from your account you will need to be sure that you have the available funds to make the transaction. When you make a payment with your debit card your bank will put a hold on the specified amount and the details of the transaction are sent to the other banks involved. When this has been verified and accepted the funds will be transferred. If you don't have the money it is still possible to pay for something, but you will need to have an agreed overdraft. Going into an overdraft is often inadvisable because you will have to pay interest on the amount you have used. Debit cards can be particularly useful for medium cost purchases or everyday items like petrol or food. It has been estimated that we use our debit cards six times on average every week. One advantage that debit cards have over credit cards is that they are also a quick and easy method of withdrawing cash. In theory you can use a credit card to withdraw money but it is not a good idea as you are borrowing money not withdrawing money that is yours. You will be charged a fee for using a credit card in this way and you will have to pay interest on the money you withdrew. With a debit card it is free to withdraw money and the money is yours - not borrowed. It can be easy to confuse credit cards and debit cards as they are similarly named and both involve using a plastic card to make payments. With a debit card you can use funds that are already in your account that are yours to do with as you please. A credit card, on the other hand, is a simple way of borrowing money. It is not linked to your current account and using one will not reduce the amount of money in your account directly (until you pay your bill at least!). When you apply for a credit card you will be designated a specific credit limit - this is how much money you can borrow from your bank each month. If you have a good credit rating, are prompt with repayments and have minimal debt you will have a higher limit. At the end of each month the payments you have made with your credit card are listed and itemised - you must then repay what you owe. You can do this in one go or you can spread repayments over a period of time. It is preferable to pay off your credit card bill as soon as possible because the interest on the amount you have borrowed will soon stack up. Credit cards are often most useful for bigger, more expensive purchases. This is because most people will have the funds for their weekly food shop but they may not have funds available for a holiday, new furniture or a car. With a credit card you can pay back the money over a longer period which may make it easier to deal with. There is also additional protection with a credit card that is not available with other payment methods. Most credit card companies offer purchase protection - this can be hugely useful if you buy something expensive that turns out to be defective. Purchase protection means that your credit card company assumes joint liability with the seller to provide the item as described and will reimburse you if it is not. This can also be advantageous when buying items online and the website turns out to be untrustworthy. You do not always have to use your credit card for big purchases, you can use it for smaller, less expensive items and pay off the bill straight-away. Doing this may help to improve your credit rating and you can also benefit from any reward schemes on offer. In order to stand out from the plethora of other credit card companies many companies will offer rewards and deals. If you use a credit card that is attached to a particular shop or supermarket they may offer discount vouchers or deals on their products. Other cards allow you to build up points every time you use it and once you have accumulated enough points you can turn them into a voucher. Some companies run 'cash-back' deals that give you tax-free cash instead of points. Many credit cards associated with airlines will let you build up free air-miles while others may offer upgrades. You should make sure to not just think about the rewards, however, and should think carefully before you borrow any money. You should also consider whether a debit card may be more appropriate.