Most consumers already know they probably won't be held responsible if a thief gets a hold of their credit card information and goes on a shopping spree.
But credit cards offer more protections and services that consumers may find helpful as they head into the holidays — and that they probably don't know exist. For instance, many credit card issuers offer price matching, extended warranties and other benefits related to purchases made on a credit card.
"These are some of the least known and most underutilized credit card perks," says Odysseas Papadimitriou, chief executive of CardHub.com, a credit card comparison Web site.
Rules and benefits will vary based on the bank and credit card network, so cardholders should call their banks or check online to find out what benefits are available to them. But generally, card companies offer these protections and services for purchases made with that credit card.
Consumers hoping to take advantage of these services may have to jump through a few hoops, such as providing copies of receipts, ads and other documents, says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for CreditCards.com. People can generally claim the benefits over the phone or online. On minor purchases, some people may not want to go through the hassle. But when the perks may lead to hundreds of dollars in savings, claiming them may be worth the extra steps, Schulz says. Here's what consumers need to know:
▪ Price matching: Few things are more frustrating than finding an item on sale days, or weeks, after you bought it. Many retailers offer refunds to people who can show that the item is now selling for a lower price there. Others may match the lower price offered by a competitor. But many credit cards will also match prices for cardholders, Schulz says. Consumers often need to show their original receipts and provide copies of ads, with dates, that show the lower price. Cards max out the refunds at $250 or $500 per item, according to CardHub.com. The claims must usually be made within 60 or 90 days of the purchase.
▪ Theft and damage protection: Many credit cards offer insurance on items that are stolen or damaged within months of being purchased. The coverage typically kicks in for goods damaged by fire, smoke or water, with a few exceptions. Generally, cards will cover up to $500 per item or incident, with a maximum of $50,000 per year.
The damage or theft must typically happen within 90 days or 120 days from the date of purchase, according to CardHub.com. In many cases, items stolen from a person's car or damaged by a power surge will not be covered.
▪ Car rental insurance: Are you renting a car when you head to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving? Many credit card networks such as MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Discover, offer rental car insurance to people who use their cards to pay for the entire cost of the car rental, according to CardHub.com.
There may be some restrictions. For instance, antique and luxury cars are typically not covered. And American Express doesn't cover rentals of certain types of SUVs, including the Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator and the Range Rover, according to CardHub.com.
In many cases, people who already have car insurance will find that their coverage also applies for rental cars, but the protections offered by credit cards can help supplement that coverage, Papadimitriou says. Many card companies cap the time of rental car insurance at 30 or 31 days.
▪ Extended warranty: Trying to decide whether to buy an extended warranty can typically add minutes, if not hours, of anxiety to a major purchase. People weigh the cost of the coverage against the chances that they will actually use it. (Lots of people never do.) But many credit cards offer extended warranties to consumers at no extra cost, Schulz says. The protection typically kicks in after the manufacturer warranty has expired, extending the coverage for another year or two. Items with manufacturer warranties that are longer than three years may be excluded. And, again, card companies usually require consumers to show copies of their receipts.
▪ Guaranteed returns: Did you wait too long to return something? Some credit card companies will let you send in new or unworn items to them in exchange for a refund. Consumers usually need to pay for the cost of shipping and provide a copy of the receipt, according to CreditCards.com. Some cards exclude purchases made outside of the United States and may cap the size of the refund at up to $500 per item. Many won't take jewelry, art or cell phones and items, according to CreditCards.com. Claims generally need to be made within 60 or 90 days and some cards may reject items from retailers that don't accept returns at all.