Difference between Debit Card vs Credit Card - Which should you choose?

Hannes Ausmees

Trying to settle on which is best - debit card vs credit card - for Malaysia and beyond? What is the difference between debit and credit cards, anyway?

This guide covers all you need to know including the debit card and credit card meanings, pros and cons and which card type might be the best to pick.

Debit cards vs credit cards: an overview

Before we get into definitions and a debit card vs credit card head to head, let’s look at an overview on a few key features:

FeatureDebit cardsCredit cards
Cost to order and maintainFree or low fee to order Often no annual or maintenance fee to payOften no fee to order Annual fees are common and can be high
Spending limitsSpend to the amount you hold in your balanceSpend to the credit limit agreed with the card issuer
PaymentPayment moves from your linked account very quickly or instantly to pay merchants when you shopCard issuer pays the merchant in the first instance, you then repay the card issuer through a monthly bill
Interest and feesNo interest Transaction fees may apply depending on how you use your cardInterest is payable on outstanding amounts Cash advance fees, penalty and late fees can apply
Reward optionsSome cards have rewards and discount options - but this isn’t universalCards may come with cash back, miles and reward options
Credit check requiredCredit check not usually requiredCredit check usually required

As you can see - there are some pretty crucial differences between credit cards vs debit cards. We’ll unpick each card type and how they work, next.

What is a debit card?

Most banks will issue or offer you a debit card when you open a day to day account - or you can get a debit card linked to a specialist online account, like the Wise debit card which we’ll cover in more detail later.

With a debit card you’ll add money to your linked account - by making a bank transfer to the account or receiving your salary to it for example - and you can then spend and withdraw funds to the amount you’ve already topped up.

When you make a debit card payment, the money is deducted from your account balance more or less instantly, so you’ll always be able to get a good idea of how much money is in your account. That can make it easier to keep an eye on your money and manage your budget - plus there’s no interest to pay as long as you don’t accidentally run up an overdraft.


What is a credit card?

To order a credit card you’ll need to meet certain eligibility criteria - usually involving guaranteeing a fixed minimum salary and passing a credit check. The bank or card issuer will use these eligibility tests to decide if you’re sufficiently creditworthy for the card you want - if your application is declined you’ll need to pick a different card and reapply.

With a credit card you’ll be able to spend on account, to the maximum credit limit the bank or card issuer has set for you. At the end of the month you’ll get a bill which shows what you owe the card issuer, which you can repay immediately to avoid further fees.

If you don’t pay back the full amount you’ll need to cover interest charges on the outstanding amount, and could run into penalty or late fees if you’re unable to keep up repayments. That said, credit cards do come with some great perks - like options to spread the costs of purchases over multiple months, and some very good reward and cash back earning options, too.

Debit card vs credit card: pros and cons

Not sure which will work for you from debit card vs credit card? Check out this pros and cons comparison to help you decide:

Debit card
  • Easy to manage a budget, as you can’t run up debts
  • No credit check required
  • Fees can be lower overall
  • Available from traditional banks, and specialist online providers
  • No access to credit when you need a little extra money
  • Many cards don’t offer rewards or cash back
Credit card
  • Spread the costs of a payment over months
  • Earn rewards and cash back
  • Build your credit score
  • Available from traditional banks, and direct from card issuers
  • Interest and penalty payments apply
  • Credit checks are required
  • Annual fees are common and can be quite high

Wise card - the most international Visa debit card

In the market for a debit card that can help you cut the costs of spending and withdrawing overseas? Check out the Wise debit card.


Open a Wise account online or in the Wise app, and order your linked international Wise debit card to spend all over the world. You’ll be able to hold and exchange 50+ currencies in your Wise account, with the mid-market exchange rate every time. Plus, spend in 170+ countries, with no extra fees for any currency you hold in your account. If you don’t have the currency you need the card can convert from you, with the Google rate and low fees from 0.41%.

Manage your account online or on the move through the Wise app - see your balance across currencies, get transaction notifications, freeze and unfreeze your card - so you’re in control wherever in the world you happen to be.

Order a Wise card today 💳

Pricing/fees: Please see Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise Fees & Pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information

Conclusion: What’s the difference between a credit card and a debit card - and which should I pick?

Debit cards are great for day to day spending at home and abroad, as they’re convenient to use, and it’s easy to stick to a budget. Credit cards can be handy for larger purchases or when you want to spread out the costs of a payment, and can come with some great reward and cash back earning options too.

Ultimately, credit and debit cards each have their own useful features - and a few downsides to be aware of. Which suits you best depends on what you’re trying to achieve. In fact, many people prefer to have both a credit card and a debit card, for different purchase types, and to maximise their options when it comes to spending - and saving - money.

For example you might want to consider getting a regular debit card from a Malaysian bank for day to day spending, plus a Wise debit card for when you travel and shop online in foreign currencies - and a credit card for those times when it makes sense to buy now and pay later.

Use this guide to help you understand the differences between debit cards vs credit cards, so you can pick the card - or cards - that work best for you.

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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