Use a debit card if …

No. 1: You tend to overspend. Although credit cards are a crucial way to build your credit history, you don't want to build up a bad credit history. "Some consumers may lack the self-control to rein in spending, and can get themselves into trouble, racking up balances that are very difficult to pay off, or worse, start going delinquent," Huynh says. "In this case, using credit cards can be a very bad thing for these people because it tarnishes their credit, has the ability to negatively impact their credit score, and can consequently limit access to credit going forward or increase the cost of that credit."

Bottom line: If you're going to use a credit card to spend more than you can afford, you might want to stick with debit instead.

No. 2: You're more of a cash person. If you normally prefer to use money, debit could be a more secure alternative to carrying around a wad of bills. If your debit card gets stolen, you should be able to recover the damages without being held responsible for any charges -- as long as you report the theft right away. Your debit card provider can also freeze the card, so the transactions stop.

And if you need to get cash on the go, your debit card may offer access to ATM machines without a fee (or your bank may reimburse you for them). But if you take a cash advance on a credit card, you're charged interest at a much higher rate than the rate on an actual purchase.

No. 3: You want to earn rewards on your tax bill. One exception to the credit-cards-offer-better-rewards rule? Paying taxes. Payment processors typically charge a flat fee of a few dollars when you pay your tax bill using a debit card, but if you pay by credit card, they charge a percentage of the total.

So if you have one of the few debit cards that offers significant rewards, putting a large tax bill on a debit card can earn you significant rewards -- and you'll pay a smaller fee than you would using a credit card. "If you have, say, a $30,000 bill, then you're only paying $3.49 to earn 30,000 airline miles," explains Kelly of The Points Guy. Just keep in mind that airline rewards debit cards often carry annual fees, but if you spend enough, you may consider that fee worthwhile.

Can I use both?

Of course, you might find yourself in a few of the above situations. That's why plenty of people maintain both debit and credit accounts, so they have flexibility. Maybe you'll use a credit card for big buys that could use purchase protection, but you'll whip out your debit card for a small purchase at the convenience store.

Whatever your personal calculus, that next time that a store clerk asks, "Debit or credit?" you'll not only have an answer -- but a good reason for your decision.

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