NEW YORK (
) -- Certain transactions traditionally thought to be reserved for cash only are now available on credit cards, thanks largely to technological advancements. Several companies, including
and, most recently,
, have introduced small credit card readers that attach to smartphones, then link to an app so small merchants or individuals can take credit and debit cards just like any other business.
These readers are changing the landscape a bit," says Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research with
. "It's really lowering the barrier to entry."
Politicians have long accepted credit card donations via their campaign Web site, but thanks to plastic card readers they can accept funds on the trail too.
Woolsey adds that electronic payments for public services can also save states and municipalities time and money, which has led to an increased adoption of plastic. Read on to find out what types of unexpected items you can now charge to your favorite credit card.
Make a donation to a Salvation Army kettle
Square enabled the
to accept credit card donations at its kettles this past holiday season, allowing donators to swipe their cards on readers attached to Android phones donated to bell ringers by
The option was available only in select markets, including New York, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco. There's no official word on whether the nonprofit plans on expanding the option in 2012, though it did
in January that the technology (it also introduced online kettles that accepted donations via plastic) led to a fundraising record of $147.6 million last year.
Pay your library fees
Many libraries, including the
, allow you to pay fines and late fees online with a debit or credit card. But residents of Columbus, Ga., recently were given the option to charge their
Buy Girl Scout cookies
The Girl Scouts announced in late February that troops in northeast Ohio would be ringing up cookie sales by accepting credit cards on their mobile phones with GoPayment, another app, plus a card reader that lets smartphone owners accept credit cards.
"We've lost out on sales in the past because many potential cookie customers did not carry cash," said Marianne Love, director of business services for Girl Scouts of North East Ohio, in a
Intuit, the company behind the GoPayment app, offered to help Girl Scout council leaders across the U.S. introduce cookie-selling credit card capabilities.
Make a political donation ... on the campaign trail
You probably know that many politicians accept credit card donations via their campaign's official Web site, but thanks to these plastic card readers, they can also accept funds after a candidate speaks on the campaign trail. Reports
are using Square while stumping, and GoPayment issued a press release just this week targeted toward
to use its application to accept political donations as well.
Buy goods at a flea market
Card readers have also made it possible for small merchants to accept credit card payments at flea markets and local craft fairs. Yelp reviews indicate several flea markets in
feature vendors that will accept your plastic payment methods.
Certain municipalities will allow you to use a credit card as collateral for a traffic ticket, says Chris Mettler, founder of
. The card essentially serves as a bond that prevents you from losing your license while you wait for your court date. Other cities will also let you post bail with a credit card, according to
, although there are often heavy fees attached to doing so.
Pay a parking meter
More and more, cities are adding credit card readers to their parking meters, including, most recently,
uptown Minneapolis, Minn.
The card readers can be advantageous to those who can't find any change in their pockets (or in between their car seats), but Woolsey says "it's more of a money-saving thing for a city" since they no longer have to send anyone out to collect the quarters.
Get through a toll
Many states allow drivers to link a credit or debit card to a service such as
, which allow them to zip through a toll and pay collectively with a credit card at the end of the mouth. But according to Woolsey, many states are moving closer to limiting alternate payment options in another attempt to save money.
Get food from a vending machine
Similarly, you can also increasingly buy
soda and snacks from local vending machines
with your credit card. In Pennslyvania, for instance, you can buy wine from a
vending machine using plastic payment methods
Give a tithing to your church
Another thing Arnold advises against charging is a church tithing or other charitable donation, which has also become more available in the past few years. You may be better off putting that on your debit card. A company named SecureGive actually markets a line of
to pastors designed to help their churches accept credit and debit card donations.
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