To make online purchases, you must have a payment method that’s accepted over the Internet. This typically means a credit card, but there are ways to shop online even without a credit card. They include debit cards, prepaid cards, gift cards, PayPal, Amazon Cash, your checking account, or even borrowing someone else's card.
Use a Debit Card for Online Shopping
The funds for the transaction will be deducted from the checking account linked to the debit card. If you don’t have a debit card, contact your bank about adding one to your existing checking account, or visit a local bank to open a new checking account and request a debit card.
One downside of making purchases with a debit card is the lack of security. When it comes to fraudulent activity, debit card users may be liable for those purchases.
Shop With Prepaid Cards
Prepaid cards are similar to debit cards, except funds are loaded into an account associated with the card rather than a checking account. Make sure the prepaid card has a major credit card network logo, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express.
Prepaid cards are a great option for those who can’t—or don’t want to—get a checking account or credit card. You can apply for a prepaid card online or visit a retailer like CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart.
Pay With Gift Cards or Store Credit
Gift cards with a major credit card network, such as Visa or MasterCard, can be used at any online store that accepts payment from that network. You can also use a retail-specific gift card to shop online, but typically only on that retailer’s website. For example, a Macy’s gift card can only be used at Macy’s.
You can purchase gift cards in the same places as prepaid cards. Many of these locations also sell retailer-specific gift cards, but of course, you can also purchase these directly from the retailer.
While you may be able to recover most of the funds stolen from a checking account if you report the fraud in a timely manner, gift cards don’t offer the same protections.
Store credit usually works similarly to gift cards. If you returned something to that retailer, they may have offered you store credit rather than a refund. Store credit may be given in the form of a physical or digital "card," or it may be pre-loaded into the customer's account.
Redeem Amazon Cash
Amazon Cash allows you to shop on Amazon.com without a credit or debit card. You just add cash to your Amazon Balance at participating locations. You can scan a unique barcode or use your mobile phone number to identify your account and add from $5 to $500 to use for shopping on Amazon.
Check Out With PayPal or Other Merchant Accounts
You can link a PayPal account to your checking account, and any purchases you make through PayPal will be deducted from that checking account.
If you have a PayPal balance, purchases will typically deduct from that balance first and then from your checking account. PayPal’s website has a list of online retailers that accept PayPal as a payment method.
Other companies that are similar to PayPal, such as Venmo, also offer options to make online purchases. Paying through Venmo provides buyers with some protection through their Venmo Purchase Program.
Some online retailers now partner with third-party lenders so customers can "buy now, pay later." In these situations, customers can make purchases with a point-of-sale installment loan when completing online checkout.
Carry a Digital Wallet
A digital wallet is just what it sounds like: a way to virtually store your payment information. While PayPal and Venmo are two types of digital wallets, there are many others, including Apple Pay and Google Pay.
When using a digital wallet for online purchases, you'll have to use a device (such as a smartphone, tablet, or computer) that is equipped with your digital wallet. At checkout, participating retailers will give you the option to pay with your wallet.
Digital wallets use a technology called "tokenization," which creates a unique code each time you make a purchase. The retailer never sees your card number—and even if the code were stolen, a thief wouldn't be able to make purchases with it.
Buy With Cryptocurrencies
Some retailers—such as Microsoft and AT&T—are now accepting payment in cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum are digital currencies that can be exchanged online for goods or services. In order to use cryptocurrencies for online purchases, you'll first have to set up a special digital wallet. Then, you'll be able to make cryptocurrency exchanges.
Not only can users make purchases without having a traditional bank account, but no personal information is required, which can be a security benefit. Many cryptocurrency users appreciate the feeling of having more autonomy over their purchases.
On the other hand, cryptocurrencies are still relatively new. That means they face high levels of volatility—and the lack of regulation may be concerning for some people.
Use Your Checking Account
Though it may be less common, some online retailers let you use your checking account and routing information to make purchases. Check the payment options for the retailer to confirm that you can use your checking information.
Checking account purchases are often made through EFT, or electronic funds transfer. EFTs digitally move money from one account to another. They are regulated by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA), which is designed to protect consumers.
Always verify that you’re on a legitimate website. If hackers get access to your checking account, they can steal your money.
Borrow Someone Else’s Card
You may have a friend or relative who’s willing to let you use their credit or debit card for your online purchases as long as you pay them back. When you use this option, be sure to enter the correct billing address so the payment will process correctly.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How much shopping is done online?
According to the Census Bureau, e-commerce sales account for a little more than 13% of all sales.
What does "USD" mean when shopping online?
If you're shopping on an international site, you might see "USD" next to some prices to clarify that the prices are in U.S. dollars. If you're an American and you see USD, then the purchase will be just like any other you're used to making. If you see another symbol or abbreviation next to the price, then you may have to do a quick conversion to learn the price in USD.