The main reason a debit card is better than a credit card is because most people are not disciplined enough to handle credit. (istock/istock)
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Now I know how National Football League quarterbacks feel come Monday morning.

Many sofa-sitting, armchair-reclining sports fans love to post comments criticizing the actions of prominent athletes who spend years training to play at an elite level. Do they get things wrong? Miss a shot? Fumble a ball? Sure they do.

Unlike those of us on the sidelines, athletes know what it’s like to be on the field in the midst of an intense battle to win.

This is how I felt recently when readers challenged me on a point I made about debit cards.

It started with this column: Credit card vs. debit card: Wow Air’s shutdown shows which is better.

In explaining how federal consumer protections differ for debit and credit cards, I stated: “There are a lot of advantages to using a debit card.”

You would have thought I missed a Super Bowl-winning field goal.

Here are a few comments from readers who say there is no good reason to use a debit card:

— “A debit card is superior to a credit card only if you are weak willed.”

— “The only people for whom a debit card is better than a credit card are those with no credit history and those with lousy financial sense. For everyone else, it makes no sense to have a debit card instead of a credit card.”

— “No, Michelle, there are NO advantages to using a debit card. If you pay off a no-fee credit card every month, you pay no interest. If there’s a problem with the purchase, you can dispute the charge, and if you get into a financial crunch, you can pay over time. A debit card takes the money out of your account immediately. If there’s a problem, you have to fight for a reimbursement, and if you get into a crunch, you’re just plain out of money. You gain nothing by using a debit card.”

— “I might use my debit card once or twice a year at Safeway because I want to get some cash back, an option not allowed if paying by credit card. But that’s the only time I ever use my debit card to pay for anything. I mean, why would I want to risk my own funds when it’s so much safer to risk the credit card company’s funds?”

— “Money comes right out of your checking account when you use a debit card. Poof! Gone!”

Here’s what most people wanted to know: Unless you are a compulsive spender, what advantages does a debit card have over a credit card?

And there you have it — the caveat to using credit.

The main reason a debit card is better than a credit card is because many people are not disciplined enough to handle credit. That’s a fact.

Read: Consumer debt is at a record high. Haven’t we learned?

In the fourth quarter of 2018, credit card balances increased by $26 billion to $870 billion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data.

“The increase in credit card balances is consistent with seasonal patterns but marks the first time credit card balances re-touched the 2008 nominal peak,” the Fed said.

Credit card delinquencies in the last quarter of 2018 increased 17 basis points to 3.22 percent of all accounts, according to the American Bankers Association.

In the last quarter of 2018, Americans also paid $113 billion in credit card interest, up 12 percent from a year earlier, according to the financial website MagnifyMoney, which analyzed FDIC data.

Folks who can manage their money often are incredulous that others cannot. It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback when you aren’t in the game trying to help financially broken people. I am in the field and work directly with people who do not have the discipline to use credit. In many cases, I’ve had them stop using a credit card. For various reasons, they find themselves clawing their way out of debt, and a debit card is a viable alternative to its plastic cousin.

In an ideal world, people would use credit wisely and pay off their credit card bills every month by the due date. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a country where people are living the American Dream on extended credit. They make minimum credit card payments because they cannot pay more.

Read: Beware the evils of credit

For people struggling to live within their means, a debit card has its advantages. Here’s why it makes sense:

— It can help you from getting deep into debt.

Read: Are you plagued by the serial get-out-of-debt disorder?

— It forces you to live within your means because, for the most part, you are limited to what’s in your bank account. Of course, you can carry overdraft protection, but forget it if you struggle with overspending. Set up your account so that purchases are rejected if you don’t have enough in the bank.

— You can make purchases online — again, without using other people’s money, which can result in excessive spending.

— You don’t have to carry cash.

— It’s easier to get a debit card because you don’t have to have an established credit history. “Anyone can get one, because it doesn’t require a good credit score,” one reader wrote.

Another reader pointed out, “Debit cards are a valuable resource for people emerging from bankruptcy or lesser financial distress who are in the process of rebuilding their credit rating.”

— Use it properly, with free checking, and avoid fees. With a credit card, you may have to pay interest or annual fees.

Some people jumped in to defend using a debit card.

— “Our rule — debit for everyday purchases (groceries, gas, meals out, etc.). Use credit cards for any substantial purchases such as furniture or any travel plans (airlines, hotels and car rentals). More than once, a credit card company has gotten us out of a jam.”

— “I have disputed charges made with my debit card and the bank has ALWAYS refunded my money!”

— “I use a debit card for groceries, gas & other everyday purchases. I don’t need a credit card company between me and the vendor. But I use a credit card for major or unusual purchases for the protection it affords.”

When it comes to a person’s financial situation, you have to meet them where they are. You cannot will them to be better at managing money. Instead, give them tools — like a debit card — to help them put in place protections against spending more than they can afford.

So, yes, there are advantages to using a debit card.

Read more:

The end of credit card signatures is not good for consumers

Ready to pay off your credit cards? Try the ‘Debt Dash’ method

How to pay down your credit card debt

Color of Money Question of the Week

Are there any cardholders who prefer debit to credit? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Debit vs. Credit.”

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