Safeguard your wallet and health: Stick to credit cards, mobile payments during coronavirus


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In the current climate, it’s crucial to prioritize both your own health and the health of your community.

Though your chances of being infected with the novel coronavirus aren’t heightened by handling cash, utilizing alternative payment methods can help limit your exposure to frequently touched surfaces and public spaces.

Online shopping: Stick to credit cards

Essential travel, such as to grocery stores, gas stations and banks, is permitted within stay-at-home order parameters, but it’s best if you can substitute your travel to one of these places with online shopping.

Consider home delivery

Instead of physically going to the grocery store to purchase food for the week, you can utilize grocery delivery and pick-up apps like Instacart or order items online directly from your local supermarket.

Instacart, in particular, accepts credit and debit cards and mobile wallet payments using Apple Pay or Google Pay — meaning you don’t exchange payment from person-to-person and can stay within your residence. In some cases, you can even earn rewards for these purchases.

American Express, for example, is said to categorize spending with Instacart as a U.S. supermarket purchase. If you’re interested in earning rewards on grocery delivery services, contact your issuer for merchant code specifics or test the waters with a small purchase. Online orders from supermarkets should also qualify.

At the store: Utilize mobile payment technology

If you must travel outside of your home to complete purchases, make use of your credit card’s contactless technology or phone’s mobile wallet. Both contactless cards and mobile wallets operate via near field communication, allowing you to hover your phone or card above the payment terminal to complete the transaction.

Depending on your card, you may be able to avoid touching the payment terminal altogether. As of April 2019, cards on Mastercard’s network can benefit from its no-signature policy.

“With modern, advanced forms of authentication now available, removing the requirement for signature capture at the point of sale and now signature panels on Mastercard cards is an important step in support of our digital evolution,” said Linda Kirkpatrick, executive vice president, U.S. merchants and acceptance, Mastercard, in a previous statement.

Paying others: There’s an app for that

For all other payments — maybe you’re paying back a friend or sending money to a loved one — consider using payment platforms like Venmo or Cash App.

Both apps allow you to send and request money; all you need to do is link a bank account, credit or debit card in order to pay others. The money you receive deposits directly into your Venmo or Cash App account balance and can be transferred to your bank with the push of a button.

Security benefits of paying with credit cards

If you have the option of completing payments with a credit or debit card (whether online or in-store), security-wise, your best bet is a credit card.

Debit cards pull funds directly from your checking account. That means if your debit card information is compromised, the hacker will have immediate access to the money within that account.

Conversely, credit cards provide a barrier between the thief and your bank account. If someone is able to make an unauthorized purchase using your credit card information, you’ll likely have time to report and reverse the charge before your bill is due.

Credit card security protections

Though both credit and debit cards can offer security protections, those of debit cards have their limits. Visa debit cards, for example, offer a zero liability policy for fraudulent transactions made with your account. The catch is that 1) this security feature doesn’t extend to all cards 2) your card’s issuer, rather than Visa, is responsible for restoring the stolen money 3) and in order to even qualify for zero liability, you must report the fraudulent transaction to Visa within 5 business days.

Common credit card security features include zero liability protection, security alerts and fraud monitoring and the ability to freeze your card from use. The specifics of these benefits vary from issuer to issuer but typically come with less red tape compared to debit cards.

Additionally, the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) outlines different personal liability terms for debit and credit cardholders in the case of a fraudulent transaction.

Under the FCBA, the maximum amount a credit cardholder can be liable for if their card is used fraudulently is $50. (It’s worth noting that in most cases, the credit card issuer won’t make you pay anything.) Debit cardholders, on the other hand, can be liable for up to the total amount of the fraudulent transaction, depending on the circumstances.

Is cash your only option?

If handling cash is your only option, don’t fret. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the novel coronavirus is, for the most part, spread from person-to-person.

As stated on the CDC’s website, “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.”

No matter what method of payment you’re using, washing your hands often, refraining from touching your face and practicing social distancing are standard practices that can help protect your health.