How to shop online without a credit card

Diana Delgado asked if there are ways to shop online without the traditional piece of plastic.

There are good reasons not to use a credit card online--or at all. Shopping online increases the odds that someone will steal your credit card number. You may want to make a purchase without your spouse knowing about it. And the buy-now-pay-later aspect of credit cards encourage some people to dangerously overspend.

But the online economy is very much a credit card economy. If you're going to buy a song, book, tablet, or just about anything online, you'll be expected to enter a credit card number.

Fortunately, there are options.

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Before we get to the good options, let's discuss an obvious but very bad one: your ATM card. Sure, it has a 16-digit number and can be used as a credit card. But it's a debit card, with the money coming out of your bank account immediately with each charge. If a thief gets your number, he or she could empty your account before you know what happened. Not so with a real credit card, where you pay nothing until you see the monthly bill and can challenge suspicious charges.

Instead, ask your bank to set you up with a secondary account for online purchases, and keep only a small amount in that account. The account would need its own ATM card, with its own credit card number. Just make sure this account lacks overdraft protection; you don't want money moving automatically from your real account into this one.

Another option: Sign up for Paypal, connecting it to your bank account. Not all retail sites support Paypal, but the payment service can give you a debit card that you can use in place of a credit card.

Finally, you can use gift cards, which you can buy at old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores. You can even buy these with cash.

I checked my local Safeway, and found gift cards for various pre-paid amounts for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ebay, Hulu Plus, iTunes, and others. They also sell pre-paid Visa cards, which you could purchase for any amount between $20 to $500. The Visa cards come with a $4 purchase charge; the retailer-specific cards cost nothing beyond the shopping power of the card..

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