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Purchase options for consumers

When you make a purchase, there are lots of payment options to consider. Here are the pros and cons to each:

Cash is almost always accepted but consider the following:

  • Do you have enough cash to pay for your purchase, as well as any other items you might have to pay for in the near future? If not, you can go to an ATM, but if it’s not at your bank’s branch, there is almost always a service charge.
  • The more cash you carry, the less money in your bank account, which could be accumulating interest.
  • If there is a possibility you'll return the item you're buying, will you get cash back or store credit?
  • If you haven’t received the item or service you are purchasing, you may not want to pay cash for it. You may have difficulty getting a refund if something goes wrong.
  • In general, it's wise not to carry large amounts of cash because of the risk of loss or theft. Use cash only for those items that you'll either use immediately or take with you.
  • Never mail cash. If it’s lost in transit, it can’t be replaced.

Writing a check frees you from the risk of carrying large sums of cash; however, you may want to consider the following:

  • Checking accounts often have fees, minimum balance requirements or a limit on how many checks you can write each month. Therefore, you may not want to write checks for small amounts unless you're mailing a payment.
  • If mailing a payment, sending a check is a more acceptable option. If the check is lost in transit, you can also call your banking institution to void the check. It also provides proof of payment because the recipient must endorse the check to cash it.
  • Not everyone is willing to accept checks because they're sometimes returned for insufficient funds in the checking account.
  • There is usually only a day or two between when a merchant receives your check and when the funds in the checking account are actually deducted from your account.

Credit Cards
Credit cards and charge cards can be a convenient, efficient and reliable payment method, while also helping the buyer defer payment. If you want to use a credit card to make payments and pay bills, please consider the following:

  • You may have to pay an annual fee to use a credit card.
  • If you want to return a purchase, credit card issuers frequently have procedures to facilitate the return.
  • Because merchants pay a fee for each credit card transaction processed, they may not want to accept payment using a credit card under a certain dollar amount.
  • When you pay with a credit card, you're actually receiving a short-term loan to make the purchase. Unless you pay your credit card bill in full soon after the bill is received, you'll have to pay an interest charge in addition to the cost of your purchase. Check the terms of your credit card for details.
  • With low minimum payments and high interest rates, credit card and interest payments can extend over long periods of time - sometimes through many years.
  • Unless you keep track of your charges, you can quickly owe more money than you can afford.
  • Some credit cards offer incentives such as cash back, shopping discounts, rental cars or airline trips based on how much is charged. These benefits should be weighed against other factors, such as the annual fee and interest rates.
  • If your credit card is stolen or used by an unauthorized user, you can dispute the charges with your financial institution.

Debit Cards
A debit card looks like a credit card but takes out funds from your checking account at the time of purchase. When using a debit card, co

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