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What is a Credit Card?

A lot of people have this ideal in their heads that a credit card is money. It’s absolutely, unequivocally, one hundred percent not money; a credit card is a promise to pay money later for things you buy today. What is a credit card, and how does it work? Essentially, the credit company pays your bill of sale at the time of purchase, and you promise to pay the credit card company back, often with interest if you leave a continuing balance on your card rather than paying off your debt in full each month.

So what is a credit card? It is a line of credit given by a credit company to the individual, most often with a certain limiting amount, that the individual may use to make purchases with the understanding that the debt accrued will be paid to the credit company, in full, either all at once or through regular payments.

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How Do Credit Cards Work?

You can see signs at point of sale transactions, generally on or around the register, denoting which major credit card companies are accepted at that location: these include Discover, American Express, MasterCard and Visa. If your credit card displays the logo for one of the companies depicted on the signs, then you can use your card to pay for your purchases at that location.

When your card is accepted, the receipt from your transaction will print out. This receipt will state that the sale was paid by card number xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-1234 (or whatever the last four digits represented on your card are), and will also feature a line at the bottom with the card owner’s name underneath. That line is where the owner of the card signs, and by signing indicates that they promise to pay the credit company back for the transaction.

If you make your purchases somewhere other than the point of sale, such as online or over the phone, this is known as a ‘card not present transaction.’ For these types of credit card payments, because you cannot show the retailer that you’re physically in possession of the credit card you’re using, they will often ask for additional proof of possession. This proof may be requested in the form of providing the security code on the back of the card – generally the last 3 or 4 digits over the signature block – as well as the expiration date and the zip code of the card’s billing address.

What is a Credit Card?

In addition to the type of credit card where the credit company issues a line of credit based on the credit worthiness of the card user, known as an unsecured card, there is also a type of credit card available for those with less than admirable credit. A secured credit card, also known as a prepaid card, has a line of credit based on a down payment made by the card user – they still need to pay off the balance of their transactions as would someone using an unsecured card.

What is a credit card? It’s a promise to pay off the transactions you pay for with your credit company’s money.

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Hot Credit Card Offers
Hot Credit Card Offers
Type Brand Annual Fee APR Cashback Bonus Details/Apply
The First Progress Platinum Elite MasterCard(R) Secured Credit Card
$29 19.99% N/A


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