15 Unique Ways to Use Your Credit Card

Credit cards have become an easy target for Congressional reform and regulations, but beneath the widely criticized rates and fees lie many benefits -- usually hidden in the fine print. Credit cards can provide valuable purchase protections and insurance unmatched by cash and debit cards.

Yet more consumers are forgoing these benefits and choosing debit cards instead of credit cards for payments. Total payment volume for debit cards surpassed credit card volume for the first time last year and will continue to expand this year, according to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research. Fifty-six percent of consumers said they had used a credit card in the past month, down from 87% in 2007. The study predicts that figure will drop to 45% by 2020. Many consumers are switching to debit cards, but there are times when using a credit card is your best choice for payment, especially for tickets and large purchases. Insurance and purchase protections vary by card and issuer, though, so it is a good idea to research these when comparing credit cards.

Here are some of the benefits offered by many credit cards:

CAR RENTAL LOSS/DAMAGE INSURANCE

Many credit cards cover damage incurred when renting a car, so you may not have to pay for the extra insurance coverage rental companies sell. To be safe, check the description of this coverage in your cardmember agreement. You must be the primary renter and use your card for the rental. To be covered by the car rental loss/damage insurance, you must decline the collision damage waiver or similar option when reserving and picking up your rental car. Coverage applies for the first 30 days, and is in excess to your other sources of insurance. Coverage may not be available in some countries. Typical exclusions include items stolen from inside or outside the vehicle; people not designated in the rental agreement or contract as an authorized driver; a loss that occurs while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; racing or reckless driving; a blowout or tire and rim damage not caused by theft or vandalism, or that is not a result of a vehicle collision.

PRICE PROTECTION

This helps consumers get the best price they can find. Many issuers will refund the difference if buyers find a lower price on the same item from the same manufacturer within a designated time -- typically 60 days. Issuers will set a refund limit. For example, Citi refunds the price difference up to $250 per item. Standard exceptions include Internet purchases or advertisements; items subject to rebate or manufacturer's coupon or a refund; items sold at going-out-of-business sales or through closeout ads; and customized items. Price protection does not cover airline and transportation tickets, travelers checks, cash or its equivalent. To get the price protection, save the printed advertisement and contact the program administrator for claim forms and filing procedures.

PURCHASE PROTECTION

This can protect against accidental damage or theft for up to 90 days from the date an item is bought. It can repair, replace or reimburse for up to the amount charged. For example, American Express coverage is limited to up to $1,000 per occurrence and up to $50,000 per cardmember account per policy year. It is in excess of other sources of indemnity. If a retailer will not accept a return within the first 90 days of purchase, some cards, such as Chase Sapphire, offers reimbursements for the cost of the item bought on the card.

EXTENDED WARRANTY PROTECTION

This extends the length of the free repair period under the original manufacturer's U.S. warranty up to one additional year. The warranty must be for three years or less. Capital One doubles the original warranty period and duplicates the coverage of the original manufacturer's warranty up to a maximum of 12 months on most items. If you fail to properly register the original warranty as required by the manufacturer, the extended warranty will only double the actual warranty period from the manufacturer. To get extended warranty protection, buyers must submit the store receipt, credit card receipt and a copy of the manufacturer's warranty.

LOST-LUGGAGE COVERAGE

This will cover you and your dependents for bags permanently lost, stolen or damaged while checked with an airline. Coverage is secondary to the carrier's liability and applies after that coverage has been exhausted. Coverage varies by issuer. Citi's coverage for checked bags is up to $3,000 per occurrence per covered person, up to $10,000 total. American Express' coverage is up to $1,250 for lost, stolen or damaged carry-on baggage, and up to $500 for checked baggage. This is in excess of the common carrier's liability and includes up to $250 of coverage for high-risk items, such as computers, jewelry and electronics.

TRIP CANCELLATION OR INTERRUPTION COVERAGE

To get this coverage, you must buy a trip with your credit card. If certificates, vouchers or frequent flier miles are used, any remaining charge for the trip must be paid entirely with the credit card. Coverage is typically limited to the lesser of $1,500 per year or the original cost of the ticket. If a trip is interrupted for a covered reason, the buyer will be reimbursed for travel to the planned destination or to join your group where they are. Exclusions include: medical conditions that began before travel; participating in contact sports; nonemergency treatment or surgery; and pregnancy and childbirth, except for complications. Coverage is limited to the amount not covered by another insurance or indemnity. Some cards offer this coverage for free, while others may charge.

ROADSIDE HELP

Some cards offer roadside help for such things as gas delivery, tire changes and jump-starts. Fees for the services are usually pre-negotiated and will be billed to your account. If you have a rental vehicle, call the car rental agency before your credit card company, because many rental agencies have special procedures regarding emergency road service.

Some credit cards offer even more:

MEDICAL PRESCRIPTION REPLACEMENT HELP

If medications are lost or forgotten, some card issuers will help you get new prescriptions.

DOCTOR REFERRAL/EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORTATION HELP

If you or another covered family member is hurt or becomes sick while traveling, your issuer can provide a global referral network of general physicians, dentists, hospitals and pharmacies. It can also help arrange transportation to the nearest appropriate medical facility. You are responsible for all costs associated with medical care and transport. In the case of a death, the benefit administrator can make arrangements for getting the remains of the deceased home.

TRIP DELAY

When a covered trip is delayed more than 12 hours due to a covered event, expenses incurred as a result of the delay, such as meals and lodging, are reimbursed.

BAGGAGE DELAY

If checked bags are delayed for 18 hours or more by an airline, you can be reimbursed for the emergency purchase of covered essential items.

ROADSIDE DISPATCH

Referral services for towing and locksmith services in the U.S. and Canada are available 24/7. All costs are your responsibility.

EMERGENCY TICKET REPLACEMENT

Helps with the carrier's lost-ticket reimbursement procedures if you should lose your ticket and can arrange delivery of a replacement. All costs are your responsibility.

COMMON CARRIER TRAVEL INSURANCE COVERAGE

Some cards, such as the Citi/AAdvantage and Discover cards, offer up to $500,000 in flight accident insurance.

HOTEL/MOTEL BURGLARY INSURANCE


This reimburses for property stolen from a hotel or motel room if the stay is bought entirely with an eligible card.

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