Is It Safer to Pay by Credit Card or Check?

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You must contend with a degree of risk whether you make a payment with either a credit card or a check. However, in most instances you are not liable for unauthorized charges that post to your account, so if your check or credit card number falls into the wrong hands, you suffer a short-term inconvenience but usually get your money back.

Long Distance

  • When you mail a check to make a payment to an out-of-town vendor, you must contend with the risk that a thief could steal the check from the mail and alter it to withdraw funds from your account. If you use a credit card to buy goods from an out-of-town vendor, you face the risk that Internet hackers could intercept your card information by illegally accessing the vendor's website or computer system.

In Person

  • You face a lower degree of risk when you make an in-person payment using a check because you hand the check directly to the merchant. When you make an in-person credit card payment, on the other hand, you still face the risk that a technical savvy thief could tap into the merchant's computer system and steal your account number. Therefore, in-person check payments expose you to less risk than credit card payments. However, when you pay with either a check or credit card you still face the danger that the merchant could steal your account information and try to defraud you.

Liability

  • Under federal law you are responsible for up to $50 of fraudulent charges that post to your credit card account. If you report your credit card lost or stolen before any charges post, then you have zero liability. Generally, you are not liable for any charges that post to your checking account as a result of checks being stolen or altered. However, in some instances banks can hold you liable if you routinely allow other people to have access to your checks and account information. Therefore, you have less liability for charges stemming from check fraud, assuming the bank cannot make a case that you are somehow to blame for the fraud.

Considerations

  • You face less risk and have less liability for check fraud, but check fraud can have a more damaging effect on you than credit card fraud. If a thief uses your credit card, you may realize the theft occurred when your credit card gets declined by a merchant. If a thief drains your checking account, multiple withdrawals such as your mortgage, car payment and utility could bounce. Your bank will eventually refund its own overdraft fees but has no responsibility to refund fees charged by your mortgage lender or other creditors. It normally takes a few days before your bank credits the money back to your account, and a few days without access to your checking account can seem like a long time compared with a few days of no access to one credit card.

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