When Should You Pay in Cash?

By Sheryl Nance-Nash · September 03, 2023 · 7 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

When Should You Pay in Cash?

Many people don’t carry cash these days, preferring to make a purchase by tapping or swiping a debit card or credit card. However, there are times it can actually pay to dip into your wallet and break out the bills.

Using cash can be more secure and less costly, among other benefits.

Here, you’ll learn when it can be better to buy with cash and when plastic is preferable.

The Benefits of Cash

Here are some of the pros of using cash:

You May Get a Discount

You may be rewarded for paying cash, like paying a lower price at the gas station or when you get take-out at a restaurant.

Many businesses pay a fee for accepting credit and debit cards, so they may be willing to charge you less if you’ll pay in cash. If you frequently fill up your tank, saving even 10 to 20 cents per gallon can add up to significant savings over time.

It Can Help You Avoid Overspending

When you tap or swipe your credit or debit card, you don’t physically see your money leaving your account. Since there’s no sense of immediacy or consequence, it can be easy to spend more than you originally intended. That can lead to debt and overdraft or NSF charges.

If, on the other hand, you leave home with only the amount of money you need for the day in cash, your spending is likely to be more mindful. That could mean you may have a better chance of sticking to your budget and avoiding overspending.

💡 Quick Tip: Banish bank fees. Open a new bank account with SoFi and you’ll pay no overdraft, minimum balance, or any monthly fees.

There Are Fewer Security Risks

Yes, someone could rob you when you are carrying cash. However, there is less risk of identity theft or your information getting stolen when you pay with cash vs. a debit or credit card.

You Can Avoid Fees

Cash is a one-shot deal — the purchase you made won’t end up costing you a penny more. With credit and debit, however, you can end up paying additional charges down the line, from late fees to interest payments on debt.

Recommended: How to Avoid Overdraft Fees

Get up to $300 when you bank with SoFi.

Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account with direct deposit and get up to a $300 cash bonus. Plus, get up to 4.60% APY on your cash!

Times When You Should Pay in Cash

Your Tab is $10 or Less

It can be a good idea to carry cash for small purchases. Many retailers have a minimum amount of money you must spend in order to use debit or credit. If your purchase is under, you’ll have to throw in extra things (you probably don’t need) to meet the minimum.

When Shopping at a Small or Local Business

Small businesses often offer discounts for cash payments, since it helps them save on bank fees. This can be an easy way to support your local businesses and save a few dollars at the same time.

You Want to Keep Advertisers at Bay

You may have noticed that after you buy something with a credit or debit card, you often get hit with ads and offers for similar products. That’s because retailers can track their customers’ spending and share their information with a third party, who can then target them with ads.

This can be annoying, and also lead to more spending if you’re enticed by an offer. Using cash makes it much harder for businesses to collect and share your information.

💡 Quick Tip: Want a simple way to save more everyday? When you turn on Roundups, all of your debit card purchases are automatically rounded up to the next dollar and deposited into your online savings account.

Times When You Shouldn’t Pay With Cash

Next, learn about the times when you should keep your wallet shut and find another, non-cash way to pay.

Buying a House

If real estate is hot where you live, you may be tempted (if you can) to plunk down cash to ensure you get that dream house before someone else does.

While buying a home with cash vs. getting a mortgage may get you the house, it may not be the most prudent move in the long run, especially if it wipes out all of your savings.

A mortgage has tax benefits and timely payments can help you build good credit. Also, there could be better uses for all that cash, like investing in the stock market or elsewhere.

Business Expenses

If you own your own business, have a side gig, or do freelance work, it can be better to use credit (or even a check) to pay for business-related purchases. You’ll likely want a paper trail so you can deduct these expenses on your tax return.

Another potential perk of using credit is that it may offer some purchase protection in event something you buy for your business that breaks or gets stolen soon after you purchase it.

Paying Service Providers

You may think a service provider, whether it’s an electrician or an auto mechanic did a good job, but only time will tell. Using credit can offer you some protection in the event that you experience problems with a service after you’ve already paid for it.

Renting a Car

Often your credit card will provide insurance on car rentals (which can help you save on renting a car), but only if you use that form of payment, as opposed to debit or cash. Using credit for the car rental can help you avoid paying for something you don’t need to purchase.

You’re Looking to Build Credit

If you need to build your credit score, one way to accomplish that is to use your credit card on a regular basis and show that you’re responsible by paying what you owe each month, consistently and on time.

When Buying Electronics

Using your credit card instead of cash for electronics can be a big advantage if your credit card offers extended warranties as a cardmember benefit. This allows you to get peace of mind without having to pony up for the store’s warranty. And, you can simply pay off the balance as soon as the bill comes.

You’re Looking to Track Your Spending

If you’re looking to see where your money is going so you can track your spending and set up a monthly budget, it can be easier if you pay with credit or debit.

Your financial institution may even offer you a pie chart of your spending, broken down into categories. Seeing everything in black and white can help you become better at budgeting.

Alternatives to Using Cash

Paying in cash has its pros and cons. If you decide that you want to pay with something other than cash, here are some alternatives.

Cash vs Credit Cards

A credit card can be a good alternative to cash if you are able to pay it off in full every month, and you do. If managed well, credit cards (even secured credit cards) can help you build credit to buy a home or another large purchase in the future.

Cash vs Debit Cards

A debit card can be a good substitute for cash, as long as you know there’s money in the bank. By using a debit card, you’re not incurring any new high-interest debt. As long as you are not incurring any overdraft fees, or withdrawing money from ATMs that charge high fees, debit cards can be a simple way to make purchases.

Cash vs Financing or Loans

It can sometimes be better to pay for a major purchase, like a car or a home, with a loan rather than cash if the interest rate is lower than what you could likely earn by investing that money.

However, you’ll also want to keep in mind that there is risk involved in investing in the stock market, so there is always a chance that you could lose money.

Recommended: Leasing vs. Buying a Car: What’s Right for You?

The Takeaway

Even as we move towards a more cashless society, it can be important to keep cash in your wallet and use it for certain everyday expenses.

Paying in cash can help you garner discounts at local businesses, stick to your budget, avoid paying overdraft and interest fees, protect against identity theft, and keep advertisers from targeting you.

There are times, however, when it can make more sense to pay with credit rather than cash. These can include: when you’re making business purchases and buying electronics and/or you’re looking to build credit or closely track your spending.

Interested in opening an online bank account? When you sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings account with direct deposit, you’ll get a competitive annual percentage yield (APY), pay zero account fees, and enjoy an array of rewards, such as access to the Allpoint Network of 55,000+ fee-free ATMs globally. Qualifying accounts can even access their paycheck up to two days early.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall. Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

Photo credit: iStock/towfiqu ahamed

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2023 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
The SoFi Bank Debit Mastercard® is issued by SoFi Bank, N.A., pursuant to license by Mastercard International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.

SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.


All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender