Credit Cards: the greatest things ever created? or are they enablers of exploding consumer debt? Ask anyone their opinion, and you will get wildly different answers. However, nobody will disagree that they are the most convenient and safe forms of payment offered in our economy.

If you think about the “normal” day of a typical American, there are 4 or 5 transactions that take place quite regularly; morning coffee, tank of gas, lunch, afternoon snack, and maybe a movie rental after dinner. All of these transactions can be done in less than 10 seconds with a simple swipe of a credit card. If everyone paid by cash and check, these transactions would take a minimum of 30 seconds; essentially tripling the size/wait in line for all the other customers. In addition to the convenience factor, the credit card companies track all of your purchases for easy record keeping and have spent millions and millions of dollars in upgrading their fraud protection, which users benefit from greatly.

While credit cards have increased the convenience and speed of consumer transactions, they have also lowered the “cooling off” as well. It used to be that in order to buy something, you needed to have cash on you or in your checking account. Consumers can now purchase goods without having the money, as long as they are under their credit limit. The problem with this is that most American have a credit limit that is in excess of their ability to immediately repay, and most lack the discipline to spend within their means.

It is impossible to live a mainstream lifestyle in today’s society without owning a credit card. However, it is imperative that you set and stick to a budget in order to safely capitalize on this great invention.