(CNN) — The countdown to Christmas is now one we're measuring in hours -- not days -- and this year, the holiday rush has an extra complexity, as shoppers wonder what the safest way to pay for their purchases is. That's after hackers stole credit and debit card information from tens of millions of target shoppers. So, what happens when you choose a card over cash?
You know the question you get almost every time you swipe a card at the checkout counter -- debit or credit? There is a difference -- and that difference can really show up if you are a victim of fraud.
CNN Money breaks down the potential risks between using debit cards and credit cards.
We'll start with credit cards, where federal law limits your liability for any fraudulent charges to fifty dollars. And if someone besides you is racking up those charges, chances are the expenses can be credited back to your account almost immediately after they're discovered.
But if you use a debit card -- you could be liable for 500 dollars or more in fraudulent purchases -- and getting money back in your account can take longer. A bank may need up to two weeks to investigate and respond -- and that can leave you short on cash -- especially if you're counting on to pay things like your mortgage and your other bills.
Consumer groups also say you should be wary of using a debit card online. It's why the privacy rights clearinghouse recommends consumers use credit cards instead of debit cards if possible.
Most banks and credit card companies ultimately do not hold victims of credit and debit card fraud responsible for paying any of the fraudulent costs -- but the time required to sort out the situation may make a real difference for people who don't have large cash reserves on hand.