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How to transition your spending from a debit card to a credit card

May 18, 2021
8 min read
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If you’ve been using your debit card for all of your purchases for years — carefully tracking your checking account balance and not spending more than what you have in the bank — shifting all of your spending to a credit card can be a big change.

I used to be one of those people. You know, the ones who pay for everything with their debit card because they're afraid of racking up debt. I thought debit cards were the safe spending option — you can’t spend more money than what you have in your checking account. I thought that was what being responsible with my money looked like. But as my interest in travel grew, and I learned that I could earn big rewards by signing up for and using credit cards, my perspective changed.

Maybe you already have a rewards credit card or two, but have been hesitant to completely shift all of your spending to those credit cards. You’ve possibly signed up for a credit card and charged enough to meet the minimum spending requirement, but, after that, you always return back to using your debit card. If you’ve been on the fence about switching your spending from debit to credit, here are a few tips to help you in the transition.

Adjust your mindset

Back when I first decided to shift my spending to credit, I knew from the start that I wanted to be a responsible credit card user. I didn’t view a credit card as free money or a long-term loan to pay back for years by only paying the minimum amount due. I didn’t want to pay interest, so that meant not charging more than I could pay back the following month.

One thing that helped me when I first began using a credit card for all of my purchases is that I treated my credit card just like my debit card. That meant not spending more than I had in the bank. Even though my credit card did not withdraw directly from my checking account for every purchase like the debit card, I still treated it like so in my mind.

If you’ve previously been the type to only pay the minimum amount due on your monthly credit card bill, paying it in full will require an adjustment to your mindset. View your credit card just like a debit card. Don’t spend more than you can pay back every month.

Related: TPG’s 10 commandments of credit cards

Know your credit limit

You’ll want to avoid accidentally going over your credit limit on a lower-limit card as transactions may be denied or you may be charged fees. But you also shouldn’t view cards with high limits as available money to max out. Keeping your balance within a reasonable limit of your available credit will also help boost your credit score. Your credit utilization ratio makes up 30% of your FICO score, so it’s important to be mindful of keeping your balance in check.

Start with just one card

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Maximizing your points- and miles-earning often involves strategizing which cards to use for different purchases. As many cards come with category bonuses — that is, bonus points for spending at merchants whose business is classified under certain merchant category codes — it can be quite lucrative to use different cards for different purchase categories. That might mean using an American Express® Gold Card for 4x points on restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x), and switching to the Citi Premier® Card for 3x points when it’s time to fill up the gas tank.

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But if you’re new to travel rewards and using your credit card for everything, having to remember which card to use for gas, which one to use for groceries, which one for restaurants, which one for your Amazon purchases, etc., can be overwhelming.

A good way to maximize points earned using only one card at a time is through new card sign-ups. Open a new credit card and use only that card to meet your minimum spending requirement, being sure to pay off your balance in full every month.

Once that’s complete, apply for another card and shift all of your spending to that card. You’re generating lots of points by receiving sign-up bonuses, even though you may not be utilizing all of the bonus categories that you could by juggling multiple cards. But remember that some issuers — including American Express, Chase and Bank of America — limit the number of cards you can be approved for.

Once you’re comfortable with your ability to consistently pay your balance off in full every month, you can add more complexity, like switching your spending to different cards to take advantage of category bonuses.

Shift any automatic payments to credit cards

Automatic payments certainly make life easier by knocking one more thing off the to-do list. If you have some transactions that automatically withdraw from your checking account or debit card, but you’re using your credit card for other purchases, it can make tracking your finances a little trickier because there’s more to manage. Keep it simple by shifting as many automatic payments as you can to your credit card.

Now you likely won’t be able to use your credit card to autopay bills like your mortgage or car payment directly to the bank or loan company, so you’ll still have to track those in your checking account. Yes, there are services that will accept your credit card for a fee and will send a check to your loan company or other merchants, but you’ll have to weigh whether the fee is worth it for you.

For your other bills — such as cellphone, utilities, fitness club membership, streaming services — it should only take a few minutes to update your payment online and then you’ll easily start earning rewards for those purchases.

Review your transactions

(Photo by My Agency/Shutterstock)

Whether you check your credit card account daily or do a single review with your monthly statement, it’s important to take the time and make sure all of your transactions post correctly. You’re not just reviewing transactions for the correct amounts, but you’ll also want to review your points earned and make sure all points post as expected. And check for any statement credits you expected to receive, such as Chase Offers or Amex Offers.

Set up autopay or schedule manual payments

You don’t want to forget to pay and be charged late fees and interest. While some card issuers may waive late charges and interest as a one-time courtesy, you definitely don’t want to get in the habit of paying late.

Determine a payment schedule that works best for you: Some people pay weekly, others pay once a month. If you’re afraid of overspending and not having the money in your checking account to pay the bill, don’t wait until the due date. You can make multiple payments during the month, even paying off balances daily or weekly.

Either set up autopay to pay in full or at least autopay the minimum balance by the due date if you’re concerned you may forget to pay manually.

Bottom line

As a long-time travel rewards enthusiast who spends a lot of time and energy learning how to maximize my spending and earn rewards, it can sometimes seem like everyone is always signing up for new credit cards and spending thousands of dollars on their cards to generate points for first-class airfare redemptions and luxury hotel stays.

But that’s definitely not the case. Even still, I sometimes find myself surprised when a friend or family member pulls out their debit card to pay for a purchase. However, I understand that even though they may be interested in travel rewards, making the move from debit to credit can be nerve-wracking.

Switching from debit to credit is one of the best money moves I’ve made — my only regret is not doing so sooner!

Featured image by Shutterstock
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

5X points
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 Points
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees