How to use credit card in the store?

Credit cards can be a convenient way to pay for purchases, allowing you to buy now and pay later. However, it’s important to understand how to properly use a credit card when making purchases in stores to avoid problems down the road. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know step-by-step, from activating and signing your card, selecting credit vs debit, using chip and contactless payments, signing the receipt, getting a refund and more.

Activating Your New Credit Card

When you first receive a new credit card in the mail, it will arrive inactive. This means you’ll need to activate it before you can start using it to make purchases. Here are the steps to activate a new credit card:

  • Call the toll-free number on the sticker on the front of the card. This is usually a 1-800 number.
  • Provide identifying information like your Social Security Number so the card issuer can verify your identity.
  • Set your PIN number for purchases requiring a PIN.
  • Activate the card and receive confirmation.
  • Sign the back of the card immediately, as unsigned cards may be rejected.

Once activated, your new card will be ready for use at stores. Just be sure to memorize your PIN number if prompted for it when paying.

Choosing “Credit” vs “Debit” at Checkout

When you insert or swipe your card at checkout, you’ll be asked whether you want to process the transaction as a credit card or a debit card. Here’s the difference:

Credit: Choosing “credit” means you do not need to enter a PIN. The purchase will simply be applied to your credit account.

Debit: Choosing “debit” means you will enter your PIN to confirm. The funds are immediately withdrawn from your linked bank account.

In most cases, choose “credit” when given the option to avoid providing your PIN. Transactions will still appear on your credit card statement. Only choose debit if required or if you need cash back and have a PIN.

Using Chip Cards

EMV chip cards have become standard in the United States. These credit cards have an embedded microchip that provides enhanced security. Here’s how to properly use them at checkout:

  1. Insert your credit card into the chip card reader slot with the chip facing up.
  2. Leave the card inserted in the reader until the transaction is complete.
  3. Follow any prompts on the card reader screen.
  4. The card reader will beep, flash or indicate when you can remove your card.
  5. Keep your card in sight the entire time it is in the chip reader.

Key things to note – don’t remove too soon or you may have to reinsert. Have staff assist if you encounter any problems with the reader not accepting the chip.

Using Contactless Cards

Contactless credit cards allow quick tap-to-pay transactions. Simply hold your card above the payment terminal rather than inserting. Here are some key tips:

  • Look for the contactless symbol on the terminal before tapping.
  • Tap the card firmly on the icon area and hold for a second or two.
  • A beep or flashing light means the payment went through.
  • Keep your card no more than an inch or two above the terminal.
  • Some purchases over a certain amount may require inserting instead.

Contactless is great for fast transactions but has more limits than chip insertion. Check your credit card statements regularly when using contactless.

Signing the Receipt

When completing a credit card purchase in-store, you’ll receive a paper receipt to sign in most cases. Here are some tips for properly signing credit card receipts:

  • Make sure all the transaction details like the total and store name are accurate.
  • Sign your name in the same way as the back of your credit card.
  • Use black ink if provided to ensure readability.
  • Double check there are no extra spaces or lines below your signature.
  • Add a note like “Check ID” if desired for additional verification.
  • Get your card back as soon as the receipt is signed.

Your signature is important for verifying transactions. If you notice any errors, notify the cashier immediately rather than signing.

Getting a Refund on Credit Card Purchases

If you need to return an item purchased with a credit card, here is how you can get a refund:

  1. Return the item within the store’s policy timeframe with your receipt.
  2. The store will initiate a refund back to your credit card account.
  3. Refunds may take 2-3 business days to process and appear on your statement.
  4. For larger refunds, the store may request to see your actual credit card for verification.
  5. You’ll receive a confirmation receipt showing the refund details.
  6. Keep monitoring your credit card statement to ensure the refund appears.

Contact the card issuer directly if the refund does not appear after some time. Never accept cash, gift cards or store credit for a credit card purchase return if you want it refunded to your account.

Using Credit Cards Online

Shopping digitally with a credit card is easy and convenient. However, extra precautions should be taken:

  • Ensure the site is secure – look for “HTTPS” in the URL.
  • Never store credit card information on a website.
  • Use one-time use credit card numbers if offered.
  • Utilize PayPal for an extra layer of protection.
  • Always log out of accounts after checking out.
  • Monitor statements routinely for unauthorized charges.

Save your credit card only with reputable online retailers you fully trust. Be alert for scams like fake websites.

Calling the Credit Card Company

You should call your credit card company promptly in certain situations when using the card:

  • If your card is lost/stolen – immediately report it.
  • To report suspicious unauthorized charges.
  • If your statement has errors or fraudulent charges.
  • If you have not received a new/replacement card issue.
  • To ask a question about your account.
  • If you need a temporary credit line increase.

Having the account number, recent transactions and identify verification details handy when you call can expedite the process.

Checking Balances and Account Activity

It’s important to monitor your account activity frequently when actively using your credit card. Here are some tips:

  • Log into your online account weekly to check balances and new charges.
  • Review statements monthly and confirm all purchases.
  • Set up text/email alerts to be notified when certain thresholds are reached.
  • Notice any fraudulent looking charges for early detection.
  • If balances seem off, contact customer service.
  • Tracking spending can help you avoid exceeding your limit.

Closely watching your credit card balances and transactions helps identify issues and ensures you spot problems right away before interest builds up.

Using Credit Cards at the Grocery Store

Grocery stores often present unique situations when paying with credit cards:

  • Split payment between two cards – inform the cashier upfront.
  • Ask to run each card individually if the reader has issues.
  • Keep cards handy if doing self checkout.
  • Enter your rewards number if prompted.
  • Keep receipts to cross check with statements.
  • Watch for pre-authorization holds on funds that later fall off.

For large grocery purchases, consider doing two separate smaller transactions to avoid a declined card. Also watch that gas station pumps don’t pre-authorize more than your available credit.

Using Credit at Restaurants

Here are some tips for paying with a credit card at restaurants:

  • Check your balance beforehand in case you want to pay for others.
  • Present your card early in case the reader is having issues.
  • Never let your card out of sight.
  • Fill in the tip amount and total yourself if paying by card.
  • Take the customer copy for your records.
  • Ensure the last 4 digits of the card charged match yours.

Also watch bar tabs carefully and get an itemized receipt at the end of the night showing each charge.

Using Credit Cards at Hotels

Hotels will require an authorized credit card at check-in for incidentals and damages. Here are some tips:

  • Present your card at check-in for room charges, deposits and taxes.
  • Understand the pre-authorization amount in case your limit is close.
  • Decline pre-authorization if checking out quickly and paying in full.
  • Ask for a zero balance receipt upon checking out.
  • Dispute any erroneous charges from your stay promptly.
  • If booking online, use the same card upon arrival.

Your card number may also be stored on file during your stay for convenience – just monitor charges carefully after checkout and have funds released.

Using Credit Overseas

Traveling internationally with a credit card requires a few extra steps:

  • Notify your issuer that you will be traveling.
  • Ask if your card has embedded chip and/or contactless.
  • Check for foreign transaction fees.
  • Know your benefits, protections and available help lines.
  • Carry a secondary card in case your main card is problematic.
  • Exchange a small amount of local currency for when cards aren’t accepted.

Also check your most frequent flier program is affiliated with the area and if benefits can be used.

Maximizing Rewards

To get the most rewards from your credit card:

  • Use your card for all eligible spending categories.
  • Pay on time and in full each month.
  • Take advantage of bonus reward promotions.
  • Shop with online shopping portals when available.
  • Target seasonal bonus reward categories like gas, groceries, etc.
  • Use contactless/mobile wallet if it qualifies for rewards.

Read the fine print so you understand exactly what spending qualifies for the highest rewards earnings rates. The more transactions, the more rewards you can earn.

Avoiding Fees

Credit cards can rack up costly fees, so beware of:

  • Late payment fees – set email/text alerts for due dates.
  • Over limit fees – track balances closely.
  • Cash advance fees – use ATM withdrawals sparingly.
  • Balance transfer fees – ask if deals are available.
  • Foreign transaction fees – use cards with no added costs.
  • Annual fees – cancel cards each year if they aren’t worthwhile.

Read the fee disclosures carefully and know how to avoid each one. Set up autopay if that helps you never miss due dates.

Improving Your Credit

Using credit cards responsibly can build your credit over time. Do this by:

  • Making all payments in full and on time.
  • Keeping balances well below 30% of your limit.
  • Avoiding frequent credit applications.
  • Having a mix of credit types – mortgages, credit cards, etc.
  • Not closing old accounts unless necessary.
  • Disputing and removing any incorrect negative marks.

Your long term use of credit is a critical factor in your credit score calculation. Manage it properly and your score will benefit.

Common Credit Card Problems

Here are some common issues to watch for with credit cards:

  • Declined transactions – Could be from exceeding your credit limit, entering wrong information, expired card, or suspected fraud.
  • Late fees – Setup autopay and payment reminders to avoid.
  • Lost/stolen card – Immediately report lost or stolen cards to minimize liability.
  • Fraudulent charges – Dispute unauthorized charges with your card issuer promptly.
  • Incorrect merchant charges – Contact the merchant first, then dispute with card company if unresolved.
  • Billing errors – Get mistakes on statements corrected by notifying card issuer.

Stay vigilant checking your accounts routinely to detect issues right away before they escalate.


Credit cards offer many benefits like rewards and revolving credit, but also carry risks if not used carefully. Follow these tips to maximize the conveniences while minimizing the downsides. Activate new cards promptly, choose credit over debit, understand chip and contactless transactions, sign correctly, watch for fees, and monitor your balances/statements routinely. Using credit responsibly allows you to improve your credit score over time. Avoid late payments, fraudulent charges, and going over your limit. With proper usage, credit cards can be a key part of your modern financial portfolio.

Leave a Comment