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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Purchasing PCs and Components | Payment Methods | Immediate Payment Options ]

Credit Card (Not Carrying A Balance)

In most situations, the best way for consumers to pay for PCs and related purchases is to use a credit card. I consider credit cards a reasonably "immediate" form of payment if you pay them off regularly; you will end up making the payment generally within one to four weeks, depending on the processing speed of the vendor and where the charge falls in your monthly billing cycle. (If you decide to carry a balance then you are using your credit card to delay payment, which is a different situation; see this discussion for more.)

These are the main reasons why I recommend always paying by credit card, assuming you have the resources and discipline to pay the bill off in full every month:

  • Security: Credit cards are the only form of payment where you get the benefit of a third party to help you if problems arise with a vendor. In the event of difficulties, the credit card company will usually work with you to resolve the issue; in the event of outright fraud you can get your money refunded outright. This is very powerful and the most important tool a consumer has when dealing with a distant mail-order or online vendor that doesn't want to be reasonable.
  • Speed and Convenience: Credit cards are the fastest way for most people to get their items shipped. You provide the credit card number and expiration date and the item can be on its way to you within an hour. Contrast this to prepayment options such as checks or money orders, where several days will elapse before your order is even processed.
  • Free Use Of Funds: You get a "grace period" in which to pay for your item, depending on the card. This means you get up to a few weeks during which you use the item but do not have to pay for it.
  • Bonuses: Many credit cards offer bonuses for using them, such as frequent-flyer miles, warranty extensions, or even outright bonus cash payments. Cards that offer extended warranties, sometimes called "buyer's protection" can be especially attractive, but make sure you find out in advance all the details on how it works.

Credit cards are now "the standard" for payment, not only in the mail order and online world, but in the retail world as well. Only the smallest vendors won't accept them. You don't pay anything extra to use a credit card, or at least, you aren't supposed to. However, you do need to watch out for possible credit card surcharges by some vendors, especially smaller ones.

Tip: Vendors pay a percentage of every credit card purchase to the credit card company. If buying from a local vendor, it's considerate to offer to pay cash or by check for smaller purchases. This saves the vendor money and with small-ticket items and a local store you don't have much to fear. You may also want to pay by check for larger purchases if the vendor offers a cash discount.

There are very few situations where I don't recommend paying by credit card. First, if the vendor is offering a deferred payment option at no cost to you, then by all means take advantage of it. Second, there are people who have difficulties with credit card discipline--they buy with good intentions of paying off the card but end up carrying a balance instead; given what this costs you may be better off not using a credit card (but you should stick to local vendors or very large online companies). Third, there are some people who do not have a credit card for one reason or another. Again here, I would recommend you stick with local vendors or the most reputable of mail order firms.

Tip: If your credit history is reasonably good but the item you want to buy is too much for your spending limit, some credit card companies will grant temporary increases for special purchases. It doesn't hurt to ask anyway...

Next: Online Payment

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