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Which Purchases Should Go on Your Credit Card?

Using your card for everyday spending can help you earn more rewards, but there are pitfalls to watch out for.

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You can use a credit card for almost any purchase these days, and doing so comes with a range of important benefits. For example, credit cards come with zero fraud liability policies that make them a safer form of payment than debit cards or cash. Credit card purchases can also earn you rewards, which can help pay off an expense.

However, there are risks involved with using credit cards for regular purchases, including racking up long-term debt. And with the average credit card interest rate sitting at over 20%, this is something to avoid.

Your spending style and ability to avoid debt will affect which purchases you should make on your card. We’ll go over the benefits of using credit cards for everyday purchases, as well as when you’re better off using cash or debit instead.

Should I use my credit card for everyday purchases?

Credit cards are an incredibly convenient form of payment that can provide rewards for everything you buy. The first step to maximizing your rewards is to not overspend and to pay your statement balance in full each month to avoid any interest charges. 

Credit cards can provide a return on common expenses like:

  • Gas
  • Groceries
  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Utility bills
  • School fees
  • Kids’ sporting equipment

For certain purchases, like utility bills, merchants could charge an extra fee for using a credit card instead of an ACH payment from a bank account, check or debit. In these scenarios, you’ll want to weigh the cost of the fee against the card’s rewards.

You’ll also want to avoid overspending solely for the sake of earning rewards. Anything you don’t pay off right away will accrue interest. Interest payments can quickly wipe out any value you’d get from the card’s rewards. Remember to also take other credit card fees into account, including annual fees.

Benefits of using credit cards for everyday purchases

If you use a credit card to your benefit, you’ll have access to a range of unique perks that can be worth it in the end. In addition to convenience and simplicity, you’ll also get consumer protections, rewards and cardholder benefits.

Simplify your finances

All of your credit card purchases will show up on a monthly credit card statement either online or in the mail. Once you receive your billing statement and monthly credit card bill, you can pay the entire statement balance during your credit card’s grace period (generally around 25 days) to avoid paying credit card interest.

By paying off your statement balance in full without getting hit with burdensome interest charges, your credit card could operate like an interest-free, short-term loan. But the benefits extend far beyond that. 

For example, using a credit card for purchases means you don’t have to carry cash around or use a debit card for purchases. That should give you a little more breathing room to make purchases without having to balance your bank account after every new purchase.

Access important consumer protections and perks

We already mentioned how credit cards have zero fraud liability policies that make them safer than cash or debit. This essentially means that most credit cards offer $0 liability fraud policies so you won’t be responsible for fraudulent charges on your account. (Federal law ensures your maximum liability for fraud on a credit card is limited to $50.)

According to the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, the same cannot be said for debit cards. Your maximum liability for fraud on a debit card is $500 if you report your debit card or ATM card lost or stolen -- but that’s if it’s reported after more than two business days but within 60 calendar days after your statement is sent. If it’s reported lost or stolen after that window, you could lose all the money taken from the accounts linked to your debit or ATM card.

Beyond liability for fraud, many credit cards come with benefits like purchase protection against damage or theft, extended warranties or return protection. Travel credit cards can also offer annual travel credits, automatic elite status, airport lounge access, fee credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership, and plenty of other perks.

Earn rewards for spending

One of the main reasons to use a credit card for purchases is to earn rewards for every dollar you spend. You can choose from top cash-back credit cards, general rewards credit cards, hotel credit cards, airline miles credit cards or general travel credit cards.

How much could you earn for your annual credit card spending? That really depends on the credit card and your average spending throughout the year. To give you an idea, we used the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express as an example card with average yearly household spending of $25,429.10. 

This card starts new cardholders off with a welcome bonus of a $250 statement credit back after they spend $3,000 in eligible purchases within six months from account opening. Members also earn 6% cash back (on up to $6,000 spent annually, then 1%) at U.S. supermarkets, 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and on transit, and 1% back on other purchases. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. The card does have a $95 annual fee ($0 intro fee for the first year), but it’s easy to cover with the card’s rewards.

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit to learn more.

How much could you earn?

The chart below shows how much you could earn for spending annually with the Blue Cash Preferred Card.

Spending categoryAnnual spendingEarning rate Annual rewards earned
Grocery spending (at U.S. supermarkets)$8,281.10 (annual grocery spending for two adults ages 19 to 50)6% back on the first $6,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets per year, then 1% back$382.81
Gas spending (at U.S. gas stations)$2,148 per the Bureau of Labor Statistics3% back$64.44
Travel spending$3,0001% back$30
Miscellaneous purchases$12,0001% back$120
Total rewards earned over 12 months$597.25*

*After the first year, the card will have a $95 annual fee, which will decrease the rewards you earn.

If the example above were to include the welcome offer of a $250 statement credit (after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first six months) on the Blue Cash Preferred, the first-year rewards for the consumer would essentially increase to $847.25.

When not to use a credit card

Credit card rewards can be enticing, but you’ll want to think about how you spend before you dive in. After all, getting hit with the average credit card interest rate of 20.5% (as of July 2023) on a balance you didn’t pay off will make the rewards you earn look like pocket change.

Here are some things to consider before you swipe, insert or hover your card:

  • If you have credit card debt. If you already have debt, you should focus on paying it down before you keep using cards for new purchases. You can use several methods to get out of debt, including the debt snowball or debt avalanche repayment method. You can also consolidate and pay down debt faster with the help of a balance transfer credit card.
  • If you’ve struggled with debt in the past. If you have struggled with overspending previously, you’ll want to make sure you have better habits now before you start using a credit card for everyday spending.
  • If your future income prospects are uncertain. If you worry you’ll have problems paying your balance off each month -- or keeping up with minimum payments –that’s a sure sign you should avoid credit cards for the time being.

How to use a credit card responsibly

If you want to use credit cards as a valuable tool, you have to treat them as one. This means using credit responsibly and to your advantage versus letting your credit cards control you. 

Don’t spend money you don’t have

Credit cards offer a convenient form of payment, but they can also be too convenient when all you have to do is swipe now and pay later. Use your cards like debit or cash and only for purchases you have the cash to back up for the best results. 

For example, use your credit card for groceries, gas, utility bills, kids’ sports fees and other purchases you planned to make anyway. In the meantime, don’t use credit cards for splurge purchases or things you know you can’t afford to pay off when your bill arrives.

Track your spending throughout the month

Remember to check your card online (or by phone) several times per month to see how much you have spent and how much you owe. This can help you avoid getting a surprise bill at the end of your billing cycle, and it can help ensure you’re not spending more money than you have to pay your bill.

You can also pay your bill off throughout the month as you make purchases. 

Always pay your credit card bill on time

No matter what you do, you’ll want to ensure you always make at least the minimum payment on your credit card by your payment due date. This will help you avoid damage to your credit score caused by late payments, as well as prevent any late fees and penalty interest rates.

If you’re worried about missing a payment, we suggest setting your card up for auto-pay or scheduling alerts that tell you when your payment is due each month.

How to get a rewards card

If you feel you’re ready to earn rewards with a credit card, and that you won’t wreck your finances in doing so, these tips can help you land the right card for your needs.

  1. Check your credit score. The best rewards credit cards are for people with good to excellent credit, although credit cards for fair credit and bad credit can also offer rewards. Either way, you’ll want to check your credit score so you know which cards you can qualify for before you apply.
  2. Compare credit card offers based on their fees, features and rewards. Once you know your credit score, you can compare cards you want to apply for. Make sure to look for cards that offer the type of rewards you want to earn and other features you can benefit from.
  3. Decide on a credit card that fits your needs. Narrow down rewards cards by looking for options with generous welcome bonuses and rewards in categories you spend the most in. Also look at credit card fees and decide if you’re willing to pay an annual fee.
  4. Apply securely with the credit card issuer. Have your personal financial information ready before you apply online, including your name, address, income, housing payment and Social Security number. You can apply online for the card you want once you’re ready, and you may get approved (or denied) in a matter of minutes.


You can use your credit card for any purchases you want, but you should only use it for spending and bills you can afford to pay off right away.

It’s fine to use a credit card for most purchases, but the high interest rates make them a costly way to borrow money. If you need to carry a balance, consider applying for a credit card that offers an introductory 0% APR for a limited time.

Credit cards offer a line of credit you can use for purchases and pay off monthly. Credit cards are convenient, help you build credit, let you earn rewards and give you consumer protections. 

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.

Holly Johnson is a credit card expert and writer who covers rewards and loyalty programs, budgeting, and all things personal finance. In addition to writing for publications like Bankrate,, Forbes Advisor and Investopedia, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of "Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You'll Love."
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