In 1949, a man by the name of Frank X. McNamara was enjoying a meal with his clients when, as the bill arrived, he realized he'd left his wallet in another suit.
That embarrassing situation led him to an idea – why should people be tied to cash? Why not offer a way for people to pay for purchases based on what they could afford, rather than the cash they had on them?
That idea, and $1.5 million in funding, would form the basis of Diners Club, the very first charge card.
What started as a convenience has now become a powerful financial tool.
Back then, the appeal of not having to carry cash everywhere was enough.
Now credit cards pile on the perks to get your business. You have everything from reward points and cashback to zero liability to concierge services. If you travel a lot, you know which cards offer you free international currency conversions too. And, if you're a true pro, you'll know that a lot of cards provide rental car insurance (waivers) too.
But there's more. Oh boy, there's a lot more.
What if I told you that your card might have something known as Return Protection – if a merchant refuses to let you return an item within 60-90 days, your credit card will refund the purchase. Some cards also have a Price Drop Protection – if you find the price of a purchase has gone down in 30-90 days, your credit card will refund you the difference. This, and many more, are now standard on many credit cards.
If you thought reward points and zero liability were something, just wait to you check out this list.
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Most of the Extended Warranty benefits work the same – up to an additional year of the manufacturer's written warranty as long as you purchase the product entirely with that card. In most cases, you need to keep the original receipt, your credit card receipt, and the warranty details. There are also product exceptions and that list varies by card, but most (reasonable) things are covered (for example, computer software is not covered).
- VISA: Warranty Manager Service with Extended Warranty Protection – You must register the purchase with the manager (free) and the extension is a year on warranties of 3 years or less.
- Citi: Extended Warranty adds up to an extra year on warranties of five years or less.
- American Express: Extended Warranty will add an extra year of warranty for warranties of five years or less. Coverage will be up to the amount charged to the card for the item, up to $10,000 and not more than $50,000 per Cardmember per year.
- Discover: Extended Product Warranty will extend a manufacturer's warranty up to an additional year on warranties of 3 years or less.
- Mastercard: Extended Warranty extends manufacturers warrany up to one year, specifics will depend on the card issuer.
Buy something and then decide you hate it and want to return it… but the store won't take it?
Your card probably offers a version of “Return Protection.”
- VISA: Return Protection will let you get a refund on an item within 90 days of purchase.
- Citi: 90-Day Return Guarantee means you can return most purchases within 90 days. Limit of $500 per item and $2,500 per year.
- American Express: Return Protection lets you get a refund on items you purchase entirely with an AMEX card, in like new condition, and the merchant won't take it back. Purchase must also be made in the United States. Limit is $300 per item and $1,000 per card.
- Discover: Return Guarantee will refund the purchase price up to $500 if the original store will not accept your return within 90 days of purchase.
- Mastercard: Satisfaction guarantee will let you refund the cost of a purchase within 60 days if the store won't accept your return, up to $250 per item. Specifics will depend on the card issuer.
Theft, Damage & Loss Protection
Did you buy something and then immediately drop it? It happens… and your card could have your back.
Most cards call it some version of “purchase protection,” but I labeled the section this way to explain what it covers – if you mess up and break the thing you bought.
Some cards also protect you in the event you lose the item, but that's rarer. Usually it only covers damage and the policy will first try to repair it, before replacing it.
- VISA & VISA Signature: Purchase Security will replace, repair, or reimburse you up to $500 within the first 90 days of purchase in the event of theft or damage.
- Citi: Damage & Theft Purchase Protection will cover you if an item you purchase is damaged or stolen within 120 days of purchase (90 day limit for New York residents).
- American Express: Purchase Protection will cover you, up to the amount charged to the card, for up to 90 days from purchase if the item is stolen or accidentally damaged. Some cards offer coverage if the item is lost. Limits exist but vary based on the card.
- Discover: Purchase Protection will cover purchases up to $500 if they're damaged or stolen within 90 days.
- Mastercard: Purchase Assurance protects your items for 90 days, specifics will depend on the card issuer.
Price drop? Get a refund of the difference. You will usually have to keep a copy of your receipt and proof that the item is available for less.
If your card offers it, consider yourself lucky. Of the protections listed in this article, Price Protection is the rarest.
- VISA: No policy found, check your card to see if it's included.
- Citi: Citi® Price Rewind will refund you the price difference if there's a price drop within 60 days.
- American Express: No policy found.
- Discover: Price Protection will refund the difference up to $500 on eligible items within 90 days of purchase.
- Mastercard: Price Protection offers 60 days of protection but the specifics will depend on the card issuer.
Credits cards love travel-related protections because they're often the most useful and memorable. Auto rental collision damage waiver (we often call it “insurance” but it's actually a waiver) is the most popular but lost luggage, roadside assistance, and trip cancellation are very common as well. Some, like Discover and American Express, also provide Flight Accident Insurance in the event you die while traveling. (yikes)
Before you go on your next trip, review your travel protections in case you need them. Hopefully you don't!
- VISA: Travel benefits include auto rental collision damage waiver, lost luggage reimbursement, roadside dispatch, travel and emergency assistance service, and travel accident insurance.
- Citi: Car rental insurance, Trip Cancellation & Interruption Protection, Roadside Assistance is available but not free, and Travel & Emergency Assistance is available but again not free.
- American Express: Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance, Baggage Insurance Plan protects you if your luggage is misplaced on a Common Carrier, and Roadside Assistance will get you help if you're stranded but you pay the third-party costs. Oh, and Travel Accident Insurance.
- Discover: Flight Accident Insurance and Auto Rental Insurance.
- Mastercard: The laundry list includes lost/delayed baggage, trip cancellation and delays and Travel Accident & Medical.
Free FICO Credit Score
Back in the day, we had to sign up for myFICO or a similar paid service to see our FICO score. I remember jumping through hoops, signing up for a myFICO trial, seeing my score, then cancelling it. Thankfully, they made it easy to cancel 100% online! (no pesky phone call)
Now, many credit card companies give it to you for free with data supplied from one of the credit report bureaus.
Who offers a free FICO Score?
- Capital One: based on TransUnion credit report (learn more)
- Citi: based on your Equifax credit report
- Discover: based on your TransUnion credit report
- >US Bank: based on Experian credit report
Finally, if you are ever dissatisfied with the “quality of goods or services received,” the Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to “sue or assert defenses” against the credit company if you can't get it solved by the merchant. The rule says you have to make a good faith attempt to get it resolved before going to the credit company.
There are a few restrictions – the purchase must be more than $50 and the purchase must have been made in your home state or within 100 miles of your home address. If the creditor is affiliated with the merchant, these restrictions don't apply.
Remember these perks because knowledge reigns supreme over nearly everyone.
How's that for a perk you probably didn't know about?