Once upon a time it was rare to see someone pay for their morning coffee with a credit card. While granted that was before a cup of coffee cost $3, most Americans eschewed using plastic for smaller purchases.
A new survey shows 17% people typically use credit cards for in-person purchases of $5 or less - up from just 11% from a similar survey last year. Also, according to the CreditCards.com survey, the number of cardholders who prefer cash — 55% — and debit cards — 24% — for small transactions each fell by 3% since last year.
While the practice may seem ripe for debt to creep into one's life, experts agree there a benefits.
"Using a credit card - for large or small purchases - is not a license to spend," said Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. "Rather, it is a convenience that helps build a credit profile. The key is to charge only what you can pay off in full, and on time, each month."
Gallegos said if someone tracks spending, works with a simple budget, and prioritizes paying credit card bills in full and on time, charging smaller items is fine.
"Some common advice about using credit cards is often misguided," added David Waldrop, president at Bridgeview Capital Advisors. "Some suggest avoiding credit cards completely due to the potential to get overextended and caught in a debt trap."
While Waldrop agrees the problems of having too much credit card debt should not be underestimated — i.e. high interest charges, late fees — and damaged credit is serious, it doesn't mean you should swear off credit cards entirely.