Subscribers get two chances to win a free audio copy of Jim Collins's The Simple Path to Wealth in December. Mr. Money Mustache reads the Forward. Don't miss out. Subscribe today!
We think of credit cards as those things which allow us to manage our financial lives without carrying money around. Bills are easy to automate with credit cards and paying the card at the end of the month is a simple, one-time, setup online and it is paid in full on the due date without any further action on your part. Even if you don’t record your spending, a credit card has a nice list of all your spending in one neat, compact location for future review.
Those crisp pieces of plastic come with a dark side also. Without constraint, you can dig a financial hole difficult to crawl out of. Make no mistake; credit cards are debt, even if you pay them in full monthly. Debit cards serve the same purpose and are not debt because it comes out of your bank account; when the money runs out, the purchases are declined.*
Previous posts discussed bonuses, cash-back credit cards, and interest free/fee free loans. I consider those the easy benefit of credit cards. Debit cards offer limited bonuses and cash back, but credit cards take it to a whole new level.
There are a lot more benefits to credit cards most people either don’t know about or never take advantage of. I seek to end that problem now. These benefits are worth anywhere from a few hundred dollars a year to thousands, depending on your level of spending and the items/services purchased with the card.
The Fine Print
I carry several cards at one time. I use a specific card for certain purchases depending on the underlying benefits the card offers on such purchases. You should have received a booklet describing your benefits when you opened the account. If you tossed it because it was all fine print, you can review the benefits online for most cards.
This review is with a credit card I currently use. I will not name the bank/credit card because benefits can change and differ between products. The benefits are similar across credit cards with a few notable exceptions. These exceptions are generally used as an inducement to acquire more card holders for the bank. I will focus on the common benefits. When you are done reading this post I encourage you to print out a copy of all your credit card’s benefits and keep them with you. They are money in the bank.
Most credit cards include some form of rental auto insurance when you use their card to rent the vehicle. Read the fine print! There are a few exceptions. Really expensive cars, like a Bentley, are excluded. The insurance on the card I am using covers physical damage, theft, loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company, and towing. If you have auto insurance for a personal vehicle, check if your liability protection covers you while driving a rented auto. It usually does.
The car rental companies push hard to get you to buy their insurance. It’s a good deal for them with a high profit margin, frequently more profitable than renting the car! The insurance at the rental company is very expensive for what you get and because you may already be covered. By checking with your regular auto insurance company and reading the credit card fine print you can save a bundle.
Before I move on I want to point out a few caveats. If you buy insurance at the rental company that insurance pays before credit card coverage. The credit card does not cover injury, items not original to the vehicle, war, impaired driving (drugs or alcohol), off-road use, or loss of personal belongings. Long term rental periods (31 consecutive days or longer) are frequently excluded, also.
Here is one benefit you have passed on without knowing it. On the card I am reviewing they cover theft, damage or involuntary and accidental parting. Purchase protection replaces, repairs, or reimburses you at their discretion. The maximum is $500 per claim and $50,000 per account. Think of the value! The kids get a new toy and break it accidentally or it is stolen. You file a claim and should be covered if the terms of the agreement are met. Of course, you had to buy the item using the credit card you file the claim with.
A few things are generally excluded, and include: animals/plants, antiques/collectibles, boats, cars, aircraft, computer software, items purchased for resale, mysterious disappearance, fraud, abuse, war (this shows up a lot, it must be an issue), medical equipment, and perishables. As always, a few minutes of reading the fine print and keeping it handy when needed can be financially rewarding.
My card extends the manufacturer’s warranty of three years or less for an additional year without cost. The maximum claim is $10,000 with a lifetime cap per account of $50,000. This includes gift purchased with the card! Once again a few items are excluded: cars, boats, aircraft, items for resale, computer software, medical equipment, or used items. The manufacturer’s warranty applies first.
The extended warranty covers a lot of stuff. Cell phones come to mind. The fear of loss, damage, or defect is a major concern if it is not covered by the manufacturer. Most smart phones have a one-year warranty. They try to sell you expensive insurance with fear factors (broken glass or theft) which your credit card covers under the purchase protection and extended warranty benefits. No need to worry about a financial hit if you pass on the insurance which rarely, if ever, gets used. That is why credit cards offer it as a free benefit. But if you are the lucky winner, the coverage is a real benefit if you know to file a claim.
When you purchase a vacation package or tour they always encourage trip cancellation insurance, except it is unnecessary since your credit card probably covers you for free if purchased with their card. It also covers family members on my card in review. The cancellation coverage is up to $5,000 per trip on my card. The part I like is you are covered if the trip is one or more miles from your residence. Really! Just one mile? A trip to the store doesn’t count?
There are a few restrictions as with any insurance. “Change of plans” is one excluded item, which makes sense. I’ll let you read the additional details in the fine print of your card which is similar to the coverage offered by trip cancellation/interruption coverage offered at the travel agency.
Bet you missed this one. Many cards, including the one reviewed here, offer price protection. On my card I am covered if I find an advertised price lower within 90 days of original purchase. This includes non-auction online sites like Amazon.
The limits are $500 per item for an annual limit of $2,500 per account. You are even covered for $50 per item/$150 annual for cash-only advertisements, close-outs, liquidation, and going-out-of-business sales! With my card you only need to pay for part of the purchase to be covered. Nice.
There are a few restrictions. Advertised items excluded are: flea markets, fire sales, limited quantity promotions, season sales, and auctions. Seasonal and discontinued items are also excluded, including: holiday decorations, clothes, and costumes.
After you get done tearing the airline a new one you might want to check with your credit card. The benefit reimburses you for repair or replacements costs. The nice thing about this coverage is that my card’s benefit is up to $500 for jewelry, watches, cameras, camcorders, and other electronic devices, with a $3,000 limit on all covered items for each trip. Money, securities, tickets, money orders, traveler’s checks, and furs are not covered.
A perfect vacation can be ruined by lost or delayed luggage. My card says if my luggage is delayed more than six hours I will be reimbursed for emergency purchases of essential items. The benefit extends to family members and frequent flyer travel rewards when some portion of the trip is paid with the credit card. My card reimburses up to $100 per day for three days maximum. After six hours, go enjoy your vacation. It’s covered.
Trip Accident Insurance
This animal is really an Accidental Death and Dismemberment policy. My card provides $500,000 of life coverage if I die while traveling with the common carrier and $100,000 if I die within 24 hours of an accident on the carrier. I’ll save you the morbid details of the benefits if you suffer loss of speech or body parts. My guess is if you ever need this benefit you will not care much about the lost/delayed luggage benefit. (Bet you were waiting to see how long it would take me to be a smartass.)
Travel and Emergency Assistance Services
Traveling is stressful so I avoid it like the plague. When I do travel it is nice to know I have a help line at my fingertips. There is a list of services attached to this benefit, including: emergency message service, medical referral assistance, legal referral assistance (you would think a crazy accountant could use this fairly often), emergency transportation assistance, emergency ticket replacement (a real stress reducer), lost luggage locator service, pre-trip assistance, and prescription and valuable document delivery arrangements.
My auto insurance automatically covers me for this if I have collision on the car, which I don’t. They also charge for the benefit. Not my credit card! They love me. They give me the toll-free number of a motor club I can call 24/7 for help. If you are driving a rental car you need to call the rental company first.
The cross-section here is only the start. Your credit card may offer more or fewer benefits. Your lifestyle will determine the right credit card for you. These benefits are often unused. That is too bad. Lost or delayed luggage is stressful, but if you knew you were covered it might make the situation a bit more bearable. Price protection and extended warranties are also valuable benefits.
When is the last time you filed a claim with your credit card company? Thought so. Bet a dollar to one you never filed the claim because you were unaware of the benefit. That needs to change. Credit cards offer a wide range of value. The bonuses, cash-back, and travel rewards are only the beginning. Come to think of it, traveling seems more appealing all of a sudden. Think I’ll book a flight for the missus and me.
You can review and compare the litany of credit cards here.
* Some banks and credit unions have decided it is okay to let people overdraw their account rather than decline a purchase to maximize overdraft fees. Financial independence requires discipline on your part regardless the method of payment you choose.
Note: Check the TWA Recommends page for all the latest best credit card rewards programs.