Credit or Debit?

“Will this be credit or debit?”  You may have heard this common question at the grocery store, department store or pharmacy.  Since a debit card looks like a credit card, but works like a check or ATM card, you may be confused about how to decide.  You’re not alone.

If you are paying with your 1st United Visa debit card, for example, when you choose “debit,” you authorize a transaction by entering your personal identification number (PIN) into a keypad.  You may not know, however, that you can opt instead for “credit” to authorize a charge by signing for the purchase.

There are three ways to examine your options: cost, convenience and exposure to fraud.


The cost of either option is usually the same to you regardless of how you process your payment.  Retailers, though, generally prefer that you opt for PIN transactions because they don’t have to pay an interchange fee to the credit card company and they are immediately credited from your account.

Keep in mind that if you want to receive cash back, you will have to choose the debit option and use your PIN.


Members often tell us they use their PIN to speed along transaction more quickly.  With today’s technology there is normally no delay in processing credit transactions. For a small purchase such as a cup of coffee, a PIN-based transaction may be a good and efficient choice but ultimately, a PIN-based transaction is typically no quicker than a signature-based transaction.

Fraud risk

Fraud is the biggest concern today and PIN-based fraud is happening more frequently. Every time you slide your card through a store terminal and then enter your PIN, you increase the chances of a skimming device or criminal capturing your information. Conversely, by signing for your purchase, you aren’t exposing your PIN and, thus, may reduce your risk.

Bottom line: your signature has value

So, the next time you’re asked “credit or debit?” choose credit.  It provides greater safety and security for you and greater revenue for the credit union which, in turn, allows us to provide greater value to loyal members, like you.
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