Are Debit Cards Security Blankets?

I am a huge Judge John Hodgman fan, which meant that I was a little disappointed to read one of his recent NYT Magazine advice columns.

The letter writer explains that his wife still uses a debit card despite the fact that they have a perfectly good rewards-bearing credit card. Would the Judge please tell his wife to use credit only, so they don’t miss out on any potential rewards?

Here’s an excerpt from Judge Hodgman’s response:

While I appreciate your wife’s desire to keep her childhood blankey of a debit card, it’s time to grow up, and growing up means loyalty programs!

I don’t know about you, but one of my biggest financial maturity phases came when I stopped using credit so I could pay down all of the debt I’d accumulated on those credit cards! Sometimes it’s the credit card that’s the security blanket, not the debit card.

There’s a lot we don’t know here, though. Maybe the letter writer and his wife are in a place where they don’t have to worry about spending beyond their means; maybe they have a budget and regularly discuss their finances and pay every bill on time.

Or maybe they’re like I was when I was younger: using credit cards to fill in the gap between income and expenses. (I got a lot of rewards, though!)

Or maybe they’re in that in-between state where most of the time they spend less than they earn, but if they’re not careful they could easily put a charge on the credit card that they wouldn’t be able to pay off when the statement came due.

Long-term Billfolders will remember that there was a point at which I was nervous to start using credit again, since I had gotten into so much credit card debt in the past. Now I feel very comfortable with credit, and save my debit card for the times I need to get cash back from the register. (Cheaper than the ATM!)

But it took me a while—and a healthy emergency fund—to get there.

What about you? Do you always use credit cards? How do you make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford to pay off? What advice would you give this man and his wife?

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