What is the difference between a credit card and a debit card?

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When it comes to calling their bank card, many people mistakenly use the term « credit card ». In France, however, it is mainly « debit cards » that are provided to customers by the banks. How can you distinguish between these two types of cards?

The debit card linked to the current account

  • The debit card is the bank card most often found in French people’s wallets. It is a national (CB logo) or international (Visa, Mastercard…) means of payment provided by the bank when a current account is opened. Each time money is purchased or withdrawn with such a card, the associated account is debited according to the modalities chosen by the cardholder in agreement with his bank :
  • The difference between debit card and credit cardOr the debit is immediate with systematic authorisation. Each time a payment is made, the account balance is checked to ensure that the account has sufficient funds to cover the transaction. The account is then debited on a daily basis, depending on the transaction. Maestro cards, Visa Electron and prepaid cards fall into this category;
  • Either the debit is immediate without systematic authorisation. For small amounts, the check is random, so there is a risk of an overdraft. On the other hand, above a certain amount (usually 100 €) or for payments abroad, authorisation is systematically obtained. The amount is usually debited within 24 to 48 hours;
    Or the debit is postponed. Without checking the account balance, the account is debited at a later time, sometimes at the end of the month. This is a welcome delay when it comes to major purchases, holiday bookings or a difficult end of month.

Depending on spending habits, cardholders should carefully consider when to charge their card. After all, the greater the flexibility of use, the greater the risk of an overdraft.

The credit card, a renewable reserve

Shopping with a debit cardThe « credit card », which can also be used in France or abroad, is not directly linked to the holder’s current account, but to a liquidity reserve that the customer can replenish as needed. Not only banks, but also credit companies and most department stores and retail chains offer their own credit cards, which come with certain benefits depending on the provider.

On each due date (monthly, weekly, etc.), the cardholder receives a statement from the credit card company summarising all payment transactions made on credit. Depending on the terms of the contract, the sum is debited automatically a short time later or staggered with interest over a certain period of time. This last procedure, called « revolving », makes it possible to reduce the risk of an overdraft. But beware: the interest rates displayed are often very high and can lead to an accumulation of debt.

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