Debt Consolidation

The Facts About Debt

Cash or Credit?

Filed under: Banks, Debt, Saving
Tags: , , , — Written by: Lyuda
March 22, 2010

Photo by: mangpages (flikr)

Since living through the 1990s economic collapse back home in Russia, I have always preferred using cash instead of credit cards – or even debit cards. I think I just got used to cash.

Since there was no equivalent of the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), many people lost all their savings when banks crashed. Forget credit – almost no one could obtain that.

The result? Most of us just came to accept that cash was the only option. The upside is that using cash made it very difficult to run up excessive debt.

Without getting into a discussion about the complexities of post-Soviet banking, I’m feeling a bit of dé ja vu these days. Bank collapses and difficulty getting credit and economic hardships..it’s all so familiar. The time has come to take a closer look at the merits of using cash.

It’s not just the parallels between Russia’s collapse and the one we’re living through now. There are also timeless reasons to use cash instead of a credit or debit card.

The first advantage of using cash is that you know where you stand financially. You don’t have to look at a bank ledger or a checkbook balance or a web page. When you need money, you know right where it is and how much you have. You also don’t have to write down how much you’ve spent in order to know much is left because it’s right there to count. You don’t have to worry about any fees caused by usage, as you might with credit or debit cards. Cash is also pretty much universally accepted; you don’t have to worry what bank’s name is written on it.

The second advantage of cash is that it can help keep you out of debt. There are so many ways that credit and debit cards encourage you to rack up fees, and I’ve seen people get into trouble with too much debt or with overdraft fees. With banks seeing lower profits on their traditional services, they are coming up with new and more complicated ways to recoup those loses through some rather creative fee strategies.

You can avoid those new tricks of the trade by sticking to cash. It reduces the need to consult the fine print in the latest correspondence from your credit card company. And watch out for new rules on checking accounts and debit cards. Cash also keeps you from overdrawing your account, avoiding interest charges and possibly other hidden fees.

Another smart move is to have an emergency fund in cash. While it is not a bad idea to have an emergency credit card, keeping out of debt if you can is a better idea. In Russia, we called cash emergency money “black day’ funds.” A black day is a day when everything seems to go wrong at once. One Sunday morning, a tire blows out and the fridge breaks down. With an emergency cash fund you don’t have to reach for a credit card or worry about whether the bank is open or if you have enough money in your account. Your can pay the car mechanic and the appliance repair person from your emergency fund.

There are some drawbacks to cash. Recovering stolen cash is very difficult so you have to worry a lot more about security. You also can’t do much shopping over the internet. And you need to budget your expenditures well as the only amount you have is the amount that’s in your pocket. If you can’t cover the groceries with what you have, you need to make another trip to the bank and then to the store. But these are obstacles that be overcome. After all, people used cash for centuries, when there was no such thing as a credit or debit card. And, as I said, I’ve gotten used to it myself. And the benefits of using cash for most transactions, having an emergency cash fund, and tossing out the credit or debit card except in case of emergencies.

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