If you live without a credit card in Canada, you’re practically a nobody – or at least it feels that way. The world moves at the speed of swipe and without that little piece of plastic, doors close. Friends jet set without you, hotels turn you away, and simple online purchases become a major pain point.
Living without a credit card isn’t just about convenience and credit scores, it’s about dignity, accessibility, and the sharp sting of exclusion. But this isn’t a narrative of defeat, it’s a call to action. You absolutely can live without a credit card in Canada. We’ve put together a list of strategies to help you not just live without a credit card, but thrive in a country addicted to debt. You got this!
Why is it so hard to live without a credit card?
Because credit cards are as ubiquitous as the Double-Double. Right now, we rank second highest in the world for cashless transactions with over 76 million credit cards in circulation. Everyone and their dog has one (or two!) and almost everyone wants you to use it – for everything.
That makes living without a credit card in Canada challenging for several reasons:
Many online retailers require a credit card for payment. Without one, online shopping becomes incredibly difficult. And alternatives like debit cards or online payment platforms are not always accepted.
Travel & accommodations
Rental car companies, hotels, and airlines almost always require a credit card for reservations. While there might be alternatives available, they usually involve more hassle. And certain types of prepaid cards are a non-starter.
In Canada, using a credit card responsibly is the easiest and most common way to build a credit history. A good credit score is essential for milestones like financing a home purchase, buying a car, or even getting certain jobs. Without a credit card, building this history can be incredibly difficult, potentially derailing your goals or robbing you of opportunities.
Convenience & security
Credit cards offer convenience and additional protections against fraud or loss that other forms of payment cannot provide. If someone steals your credit card, you usually won’t be liable for unauthorized purchases. However, if someone steals your wallet or accesses your bank account via a debit card, you could lose actual money. And, in many cases, your account is frozen while the situation is being resolved which prevents you from accessing your cash.
Many subscription services like streaming platforms, gyms, or even utility providers prefer or even require a credit card for automatic monthly payments. Without one, managing these subscriptions becomes more complicated.
A credit card can be a crucial financial tool in emergencies, allowing you to access funds quickly if you need to pay for unexpected expenses like car repairs or medical bills. While it’s preferable to have money in a savings account for exactly this purpose, it may be enough. And the reality is that most people do not have the recommended 3-6 months’ worth of expenses saved up.
While there may be alternative payment methods, like prepaid credit cards, cash, and debit cards, these options may not always be accepted or may come with fees and other inconveniences. And the big banks have seriously let us down but not keeping up with our changing needs in a digital world. For shame!
Rewards & perks
Many credit cards offer rewards, cash back, or other perks that you miss out on if you don’t have one. These can add up to significant savings or benefits over time.
9 strategies to live without a credit card (and thrive doing it!)
Living without a credit card in today’s swipe-now-think-later society sounds like a Herculean task, but it’s far from impossible. In fact, it can be empowering. Here are 9 simple strategies to live without a credit card (and thrive doing it!), transforming what used to be embarrassing into a recipe for freedom and control.
Use the right kind of prepaid credit card
When the bank says no and you’re feeling sad, a prepaid card can temper the sting and then you don’t feel so bad! Prepaid credit cards are a fantastic solution that combines the convenience of a regular credit card with the core functionality of a debit card.
Instead of taking on debt that you have to pay back every time you swipe, you load it with your own money that you already have. Since you’re not actually borrowing money, prepaid cards do not require a credit check because your credit score is irrelevant. And since you can only spend the money you load onto the card, you will never go into debt or pay a dime of interest!
Avoid these prepaid credit cards if you want to live without a credit card
But you can’t get just get any old prepaid card and expect it to solve all your problems. There are some types of prepaid cards that most merchants will accept, and some they absolutely will not. Why?
Many prepaid cards can be bought anonymously, and the funds are typically limited to just a few hundred dollars, which is significantly lower than the credit limit on most traditional credit cards. For some businesses like airlines, hotels, and car rental companies, these types of cards are riskier because they can’t necessarily trace them back to an individual. Or they may worry about the card having enough funds available to cover additional charges – like if you trash the hotel or crash the rental car.
And these types of prepaid cards are notorious for not supporting recurring bill payments, like your favourite streaming services. Some don’t even let you pay at the pump for gas! Thank you, next.
Avoid the kinds of prepaid cards you can buy at places like gas stations, grocery stores, pharmacies, online, etc. They won’t get you very far because they aren’t accepted by airlines, hotels, and car rental companies. Nor do they come with rewards like cash back and other perks.
Get one of these prepaid credit cards instead
Instead, you want to opt for the best prepaid credit cards issued by institutions like KOHO, Neo, and EQ Bank. They offer rewards, perks, and peace of mind that your card will most likely be accepted if you need to book a hotel room, rent a car, or catch a flight. That’s because you need to open an account and provide personal information to confirm your identity in order to even get the card – making it effortless to prove that it belongs to you.
Neo Money Card
Earn 2.25% interest
The Neo Money Card is hands-down the best option if you’re struggling to live without a credit card. It blends the practicality of a debit card with the flexibility and universality of a credit card. Requiring no credit check, it provides direct access to funds from your
What sets it apart is the insanely generous cash back program, making it one of the best cash back cards in Canada. You can get up to 15% cash back on each first purchase at
Add to that an annual interest rate of 2.25% on your account balance, all without monthly or annual fees, and the
KOHO Prepaid Mastercard
Get $20 with the promocode HARDBACON
Coming in a close second we have the beloved KOHO Prepaid Mastercard, which happens to be one of the best prepaid travel cards in Canada. Like a regular credit card, you can use it wherever Mastercard is accepted, both online and in-person. This card comes free when you open an account. And KOHO lets you choose your own adventure with a selection of four different account plans ranging from $0 – $19 per month.
Depending on the plan you choose, you can earn up to 2% cash back on groceries, dining, and transportation. The money in your account earns up to 4.5% interest, and the top-tiered plans come with premium perks like no foreign transaction fees.
Secured credit card
And the best part? You don’t have to choose between living without a credit card or building your credit score. You can do both with KOHO’s Credit Building subscription. For a monthly fee, they’ll open a tradeline on your credit file and report your monthly payment to the credit bureaus. The cost ranges from $5 – $10/per month depending on your account plan.
EQ Bank Card
Get 3.00%* on everyday banking with EQ Bank
The EQ Bank Card is another great alternative to help you live without a credit card in Canada. It comes with no monthly fees, no extra charges on foreign currency transactions, and includes free ATM withdrawals across Canada. Any fees charged by Canadian ATM service providers are reimbursed by EQ Bank within 10 working days. You can use it wherever Mastercard is accepted, including in-store and online.
Best of all, this card isn’t just about saving on fees. It’s about earning as well. You earn 2.5% interest on your balance and you get 0.5% cash back on card purchases. Getting one is as simple as opening a Savings Plus Account with EQ Bank and loading it with funds. For someone trying to live without a credit card, the EQ Bank Card offers financial flexibility and rewards without unnecessary fees.
Use a debit-credit card
No, you’re not having a wicked case of Deja Vu. Prepaid cards and debit-credit cards are very similar, but not the same. If you’re not crazy bout carrying cash but can’t or don’t want to use a credit card either, a Visa-debit or Mastercard-debit is another great alternative.
Luckily, most of Canada’s Big Banks now offer Visa/Debit Cards that act as both a debit card and a credit card. That means you can use it like a credit card for things like online shopping, travelling, booking hotels, renting cars, and hopping flights. As long as your debit card has the Visa or Mastercard logo on it, you can use it where major credit cards are accepted without much stress.
In fact, you can use it for almost any purchase you would normally make with a credit card, but the funds are debited directly from your chequing account. No balances owing, no interest, no impact on your credit score.
Use a secured credit card
Ok, but, you still need a good credit score, right? Yes, especially for those big-ticket items like a house or a car. So while you can get by without a credit card for your day-to-day expenses, eventually you will need to use credit in order to build a credit history. Enter the secured credit card. Here’s how it works:
With a secured credit card, you provide a security deposit to the credit card issuer, typically in the amount of your desired credit limit. So for example, if you want a $1,000 limit, you’d provide a $1,000 security deposit. The credit card company will keep that cash in a trust account. If anything goes awry and you can’t pay off the balance or keep up with the payments, they’ll use your deposit to settle the amount owing.
This gives your credit card issuer the security of knowing that your credit account won’t go into default. And you have peace of mind knowing that the balance won’t go to collections and trash your credit score should the unexpected happen.
Just like a traditional credit card, every on-time payment you make builds your credit score month over month. And just like a traditional credit card, your balance owing is subject to interest and you can wrack up debt if you’re not careful.
A few of the best secured credit cards in Canada
Ideal for those building or rebuilding credit, these cards are accessible if your credit score sucks or doesn’t exist. To help you find the perfect fit for your wallet and lifestyle, here are just a few of our favourite secured credit cards in Canada:
Neo Secured Mastercard
Secured credit card
The Neo Secured Credit offers a hassle-free path for those struggling to build credit in Canada – no credit check required! With guaranteed approval for Canadian residents meeting age and security fund requirements, it’s the most accessible secured card on the market. The minimum security deposit is just $50, and the interest rate ranges from 19.99% to 26.99% based on your financial situation.
There’s no annual fee and you earn instant cash back on purchases ranging from 0.5% to as much as 15% on the first purchase at one of over 10,000
Home Trust Visa
Interest rate: 14.90% or 19.99%
Annual fee: $0 – $59
Security deposit: $500
*Not available in Quebec
Check out the Home Trust Secured Visa, one of the easiest credit cards to get in Canada. It’s got two different options to choose from, so you can pick what suits you best. If you’re all about saving, there’s a free option with no yearly fee and a 19.99% interest rate on purchases. Need to carry a balance? Then, for $59 a year, you can snag the low-interest card with a 14.90% rate.
You’ll need to put down a security deposit, of at least $500, and then you can even add someone else as an authorized user if you like. And guess what? You can get credit limits up to $10,000 if you can put that much down to secure the card. Just a heads up, though – if you’re living in Quebec or currently in bankruptcy, this card won’t be an option for you.
CapitalOne Secured Mastercard
Interest rate: 19.80% on purchases, 21.90% on cash advances
Annual fee: $59
Security deposit: $75
Meet the CapitalOne Secured Mastercard. As long as you can put down the security deposit, this card is yours, no fuss. And guess what? It has an annual fee of only $59 and an interest rate of 19.80% on purchases.
But here’s the best part: you can start with a deposit as low as $75, and it only goes up to $300. So if you’re eyeing a secured credit card but don’t have stacks of cash lying around for a big deposit, this could be the perfect fit for you.
Live within your means
If you want to live without a credit card, then remember this: it’s not how much money you make, it’s how you manage it. Maintaining a positive cash flow will significantly reduce the need for credit, and therefore, the need for a credit card. But in order to do that, you need to budget, budget, budget.
Spontaneous spending is not an option, at least not for things you don’t need. Plan ahead for expenses like clothes, car repairs, groceries and even Christmas shopping. Whenever possible, look for deals, discounts and flash sales. Better yet, check out your local Buy Nothing Facebook groups before trekking down to Canadian Tire to swipe your plastic.
Not sure how to set up a budget? Download the Hardbacon app and use the Zero Based Budgeting method to give every penny a purpose. You can set spending categories for pretty much all the things. Ideally, you want every dollar accounted for so that you have 0 miscellaneous dollars left over at the end of the month.
If you have surplus money, then allocate it somewhere like your emergency savings account or towards that new laptop you need for school. This method of budgeting helps uncover spending inefficiencies so you can maximize your savings
Track your monthly spending habits
With budgeting apps like Hardbacon, you can easily track all the money coming in and where it’s going. The app analyzes your spending behaviour so you can see where you tend to spend the most and how much. That $2 Double Double you grab on the way to work every morning will cost you over $520 a year!
What about all your monthly subscriptions? There’s literally a subscription service for everything these days. If you’re not careful, the next thing you know you’ve signed up for 11 monthly subscription services costing you a whopping $150 a month! Without tracking, you might not notice $10 here or $20 there.
A tracking app will show you how much of your monthly income is being spent in different categories. Stop the leaks in your budget by cancelling subscriptions and downgrading services like cable or your cell phone plan. It’ll also help you to regain and take control of spending in areas you didn’t realize you were overspending, like your morning Double-Doubles or eating out.
Set up two chequing accounts
Many of us are faithfully putting in our 40 hours a week (or more), but somehow keep coming up short between paydays. If that sounds like you, join the club. If you’re not careful, you can be caught in that paycheque-to-paycheque trap. Consider opening another chequing account.
If you think multiple accounts will make tracking and budgeting more complicated, think again. Two accounts will allow you to compartmentalize your spending so that you don’t accidentally overspend on wing night with the guys right before your car insurance is due.
One account is for all your recurring monthly bills like rent, cell phone, car payments, etc. The other account is for your day-to-day discretionary spending, like your morning coffee habit, brunch with the girls, or date night at the movies.
Add up those total fixed monthly expenses and move that money to a separate account that you never touch. So for example, add up your recurring expenses like:
- Car Payment
- Car Insurance
- Cell Phone
- Heat & Hydro
If those come to a grand total of, say, $1,880.00 a month, then make sure you transfer that to the second account you opened just for bills. If you get paid bi-weekly, cut that total in half and transfer $940.00 every two weeks on your paydays. When the bills come due, the money will be in there.
Whatever is left in your discretionary account is yours to spend how you please. Just make sure you’re always funding your savings account so you have a cushion for those unexpected expenses. This method seriously reduces the risk of needing to use your credit card to cover living expenses between paydays.
Open a PayPal account
Even with all the convenience of alternative cash-less payment options, you may still prefer not to use any plastic at all when shopping on the world wide web. If that’s you, there is yet another online payment option.
Using Visa/Debit cards or your bank account for online transactions still comes with a level of risk. Those merchants may be able to access your personal payment information. The safety of your identity and private banking information depends on the security measures the merchant may or may not be taking. PayPal creates an extra layer of protection by acting as a middleman between your payment info and the merchant.
After the four most widely accepted credit cards, PayPal comes in as the 5th most accepted online payment method. You can link your debit card, pre-paid credit card or bank account to your PayPal account. You then fund your PayPal account and make transactions from there. PayPal uses end-to-end encryption, among other security measures, to complete your transactions and protect your information.
Set a savings goal
You’ve heard it before, a goal without a plan is just a dream. In order to live without a credit card and avoid debt, you’ll need to stick to a financial plan. That means contributing to your savings account every month without fail. If money is tight, don’t stress about how much you can afford to save. Just put something in there, even if it’s only $5.
Having a cushion will drastically reduce the need for a credit card in the event of an emergency. But if your savings account is small, and the unexpected expense is big, you won’t go into as much debt to cover that cost. You’ll be able to pay off that balance a lot faster than if you didn’t have any savings at all.
Squirrelling away some money each month into a high-interest savings account will help your balance grow even faster. And don’t underestimate the power of investing your hard-earned bacon within a TFSA. If you have a longer time horizon, you can choose to aggressively invest within the TFSA and your capital gains are tax-free. Let market returns and compound interest work their magic so you can reach your savings goals faster and avoid using credit to fund your big-ticket expenses.
Try to shop local
Have you considered shopping locally? You can ditch your plastic altogether and pay actual cold hard cash for the stuff you want, need and love. Not only that, but you’ll be supporting small business owners in your very own community. In this context, ditching credit cards and shopping locally actually creates jobs and stimulates your local economy. Yay, capitalism!
Keep in mind, shopping locally can actually be a privilege denied to some. It is often more expensive than it would be online or through a big box store. If you’re living on a modest income, your budget comes first – no shame in that game! Taking care of your financial health first will put you in a much better position down the road.
Shop local if and when you can, but don’t sweat it if you can’t. Once your situation changes for the better you can always change your shopping habits to favour your local merchants. In the meantime, if you’re budget dictates that you shop at Walmart you’re still doing your part. Walmart employs the people in your community and shopping there helps secure their employment.
What About Your Credit Score?
Great question. As mentioned earlier, maintaining a good credit score is essential for accessing those big purchases like a house, or a new car when your clunker kicks the bucket. Also, you need good credit for things like getting an apartment, opening a cell phone account, or applying for a job. Yes, A JOB!
More and more employers are checking the credit files of applicants to assess their character and the level of risk they may pose to the company. This is especially true for careers in the financial industry or any job where you will be handling payments or the sensitive, personal information of clients or customers.
You can build your credit history without a credit card by subscribing to a credit-building program. Borrowell offers a paid plan called Rent Advantage that uses your monthly rent payments to build credit – and it doesn’t involve your landlord at all. KOHO offers a Credit Building subscription plan that reports your monthly payments to the credit bureaus.
You can also build credit with a loan, a secured credit card, or by handling the credit you already have responsibly. You probably have a student loan, car loan or some sort of debt on your credit file. Make those payments on time every month without fail!
Or maybe you’re young and haven’t had the chance to build a history yet. You can still do that without a credit card. You can take out a savings loan, which acts as an installment loan but the payments are returned to you at the end of the term (minus interest and applicable fees). Your monthly payments are reported to Equifax and TransUnion. As you make your monthly payments on time and reduce your balance, your credit score increases.
How to live without a credit card: Putting it all together
A life without credit card debt is a beautiful thing. And it’s totally achievable. The first step is tuning out the naysayers who’ll tell you that you absolutely need a credit card for some things. That may have been true as recently as a few years ago. But now, it’s outdated advice.
Personally, I have to make a conscious effort to use my credit card. Between my Visa-Debit and prepaid cards, I haven’t encountered a situation in which I’ve actually needed a traditional credit card. I’ve booked hotel rooms, bought plane tickets, shopped online, and trekked around the US with just the money in my chequing account.
Sure, it’s a good idea to have a credit card on hand just in case. But if you’re afraid you’d misuse it and rack up debt, then you’re better off not having one at all.
FAQs about living without a credit card
Yes, you can book a hotel without a credit card. Many hotels allow booking with a debit-credit card or cash deposit, but policies may vary. Prepaid credit cards issued by financial institutions and neobanks like KOHO,
Yes, you can rent a car without a credit card. Many car rental companies accepted prepaid cards issued by financial institutions such as banks and fintech companies like
Yes, you can build credit without a credit card through loans, utility payments, and secured credit products. KOHO offers a Credit Building subscription program, and Borrowell lets you report your rent payments to the credit bureaus to build credit. Consistent payments on any credit account will positively impact your credit score.
Yes, you can use Uber without a credit card. Uber accepts payments through PayPal, prepaid credit cards and debit-credit cards.
Yes, but it might be more difficult. Loans are typically based on your credit history, income, and other factors, not necessarily on having a credit card. But a credit card is the quickest and easiest way to start building a credit history. Without a good credit score or sufficient credit history, you may have difficulty getting approved for a loan from a traditional. However, there are many private lenders who cater to credit-challenged borrowers, making it possible to get a loan without a credit card.
Yes, many carriers allow you to purchase a phone and plan using a debit card, debit-credit card, prepaid card, or cash. Many of them also allow you to pay your monthly bill by pre-authorized debit (PAD) out of your chequing account.
Yes, you can create an Apple ID without providing credit card information by selecting “None” in the payment method section.
Netflix in Canada accepts various payment methods, including PayPal as well as some prepaid cards and debit-credit cards.
Yes, Apple Wallet can be used with debit cards, debit-credit cards, prepaid cards, and other payment methods.
Absolutely, PayPal can be linked to your bank account or debit-credit card.
Many airlines and travel agencies accept debit cards for in-person purchases. For online purchases, you can use PayPal, a prepaid credit card, or a debit-credit card.
Yes, you can buy a car using cash, a bank draft, or financing through a loan.
Some lounges offer day passes for purchase with alternative payment methods, or through memberships and elite frequent-flyer status.
This can typically be done in your account settings without needing a credit card.
Loyalty programs, shopping portals, and some debit card partnerships offer travel points without needing a credit card.
Many food delivery apps accept prepaid cards and debit-credit cards. Many restaurants do their own deliveries and accept the same payment cards as well as cash and debit card payments at the door.
Yes, you can subscribe to OnlyFans without a credit card using prepaid cards and debit-credit cards.
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