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BNPL, Credit Cards, Venmo and More. Which Payment Method Is Best for Black Friday?

Black Friday means big spending -- choose the right financial tool to manage your spending.

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The turkey has yet to cool, but whether you like it or not, Black Friday deals are already here. If you’re aiming to get a head start on your holiday shopping this week, you should consider your payment options carefully.

Before you click checkout online or reach the register in person, you should weigh factors like security, cash on hand, convenience and your budget when deciding on a payment method.

There are plenty of cash-back and rewards credit cards available to choose from. However, shopping isn’t only a contest between credit and cash. The number of options at checkout is growing, both at physical stores and online. In addition to Apple Pay and Google Pay, there are PayPal, Venmo and CashApp. 

Not sure which payment method is best for you? We’ll walk through the benefits and drawbacks of each to help you decide.

Credit cards

There are plenty of reasons to pay with a credit card. Most of them offer safety features, such as EMV chip or contactless technology (designed to keep your card information safe), protection against fraudulent charges and purchase protection

Certain issuers, like Citi or American Express, also offer virtual credit card numbers either through their respective apps or via a digital wallet like Apple Pay or Google Pay. A virtual card replaces your physical card number to be used online. It prevents merchants from saving some of your information, therefore keeping it more secure while you shop online.

Some credit cards also offer rewards each time you spend, like cash back, travel miles or points. If you need more time to pay back purchases, a 0% introductory credit card might be appealing. Plus, strategic credit card use -- like paying off your balance in full each month -- can help boost your credit score. Many even offer perks like purchase protection, which reimburses you if your purchase is damaged or stolen, or an extended warranty, which extends a manufacturer’s warranty by a year or more..

However, the Federal Reserve has voted numerous times over the last year to increase interest rates, with the average APR sitting at over 20%.  Credit cards can also be a risky choice if you can’t afford to pay off your entire balance in time. Unless you have an introductory period, using them to buy expensive items you can’t repay within 30 days can lead to interest charges and hurt your credit score.

Debit cards

In the most basic sense, paying with a debit card keeps things simple -- you can only spend what you already have, since the funds are pulled directly from your checking or savings account. That may make it easier to track your spending, and it could protect you from overspending. 

Some debit cards also provide security features, such as EMV chips, but generally have fewer protections than credit cards. (If you’re still  inserting your debit card instead of using contactless technology, we recommend calling your bank and asking for a card replacement.) 

Debit cards don’t offer the same perks you’ll get from most credit cards, though. You can’t earn rewards when you shop, for example. And if you’re short on money and need to bridge the gap between paydays, a debit card won’t help.

Buy Now, Pay Later

BNPL services like Afterpay, Klarna, Affirm -- and, by extension, Amazon -- allow you to make a purchase now via an installment loan and pay off the balance over time. If you’re worried about repaying your balance in full at the end of the month, a BNPL service might offer a much-needed respite. When used strategically, these installment plan options could help you stretch out your holiday budget with minimal or no interest. 

Each BNPL service works a little differently. Some providers offer 0% financing while others charge interest, and repayment plans could be spread over 30 days or up to 36 months. 

One important distinction between BNPL services and credit cards is the way interest is charged. Credit cards charge compound interest -- this means interest accrues not only on the balance borrowed, but also on previous interest charges. BNPL services that charge interest do not charge compound interest, and they allow you to see the total interest you’ll pay over the agreed-upon period of time up front. 

BNPL options may make sense if you need more time to pay back a balance and don’t want to be hit with high interest charges. Just make sure to compare BNPL repayment plans before committing to one. However, a BNPL plan might entice you into continuing a cycle of debt rather than focusing on paying down existing debt like with credit cards.

To find a “buy now, pay later” plan, you can shop via the provider’s app or website. You can also choose a BNPL option during checkout at a participating merchant’s website. 

Read more: Here’s how to book a flight using buy now, pay later

Digital wallets like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay

Digital wallets allow you to store payment information, like credit and debit cards, within them, for a more secure checkout experience. Some credit cards will let you generate virtual cards when used in tandem with digital wallets, too, increasing your security when shopping online. 

While these virtual wallets started as online-only payment options, you can now use Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay -- the three most popular services -- in some stores, by pulling up the app on your phone.

This may be a good payment option if you’re worried about security. Digital wallets encrypt your financial information and also use tokenization to keep your data safe. They’re safest when used online or contactlessly in stores.


If you’re shopping online this holiday season, PayPal can help protect your payment information while offering additional options for financing gifts. Technically similar to a digital wallet, PayPal now offers other ways to shop, including QR codes for shopping in participating stores. PayPal also offers its own credit card -- the PayPal Cashback Mastercard® -- if you’re looking to earn rewards for your PayPal purchases.

PayPal may make sense in a variety of cases: It’s useful if you want to keep your debit card or checking account secure online, if you want to tap into credit options or if you want to try its BNPL service. Here’s how you can use PayPal for holiday shopping:

  • Third-party processor: Using the classic PayPal service, you can link payments through your preferred payment source, such as a bank account or debit card, to make shopping more secure and convenient. It’s similar to a virtual wallet, but is accepted at more major online retailers. 
  • PayPal Credit: This payment option functions like a credit card, and if approved you’ll be able to charge transactions online, often with deferred interest charges. You can also apply to receive a physical PayPal credit card that you can use at brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Pay in 4: Paypal’s BNPL service allows you to split the total cost of your purchase into four equal interest-free installments. The first is due the day of your purchase, and the others are billed automatically every two weeks. 

Read more: PayPal’s Pay in 4 lets you pay off purchases over time. Here’s how it works


Venmo, owned by PayPal, is most popular for allowing you to send money to friends and family, and to easily split shared bills when you’re out to brunch or grabbing drinks. You can also use the Venmo app to pay for online purchases (with select merchants), the Venmo QR code in stores like Target and Walmart or apply for a Venmo debit card. 

This option might make the most sense if you receive frequent payments through Venmo and want to shop using money in your balance. Venmo also has its own credit card -- the Venmo Credit Card.

The bottom line

The holiday season means travel, coming together with friends and family, and eating good food. But it might also means there’s some serious spending in your near future. There are plenty of payment routes to explore -- and each have their benefits and drawbacks.


Credit cards can provide a return on your spending thanks to lucrative reward programs, and they can insure your purchases with useful protections. If you use a virtual card, they can even help secure your online shopping. However, they could lead to overspending and expensive credit card debt.


Debit cards could be the answer to avoiding overspending and interest charges, but you’ll forgo earning any rewards or gaining useful card protections. BNPL plans could be helpful so long as the terms are right and you can pay down the purchase in time. But they have the potential to create a debt cycle. And payment apps like Paypal, Venmo or digital wallets can make it easy to shop from your smartphone.


In the end, it’s important to consider your budget and which payment options work best with your lifestyle. Choose the tool that fits easiest to your style in order to save the most money come Black Friday.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.

Courtney Johnston is a senior editor leading the CNET Money team. Passionate about financial literacy and inclusion, she has a decade of experience as a freelance journalist covering policy, financial news, real estate and investing. A New Jersey native, she graduated with an M.A. in English Literature and Professional Writing from the University of Indianapolis, where she also worked as a graduate writing instructor.
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