Credit cards get a bad rap — and for good reason. For many, they’re a quick route to crippling debt. The average American household with credit card debt owes $16,748 on their cards, according to NerdWallet.
Clearly, using plastic can be risky if you’re in the habit of spending more than you can afford and not paying bills on time. But for responsible consumers, credit cards come with a lot of perks. Some cards reward you with miles you can redeem for flights, cash back on everyday purchases, or points you can trade in for gifts. You might even get extras, such as free checked bags and priority boarding when you fly, sign-up bonuses, and fee-free foreign transactions.
That sounds great, but there’s a catch. The cards with the best rewards aren’t available to everyone. To qualify for a premium rewards card, you’ll need great credit, according to Bankrate. And you’ll probably have to pay an annual fee, which can run you $100 a year or more.
Does that mean you’re out of luck if you can’t get — or don’t want — a top-tier rewards card? Hardly. Even people with run-of-the-mill credit cards usually still have access to some sweet perks, including warranty protection on big purchases and complimentary credit scores. The benefits might not be as flashy as what you get with some premium cards (you’re not going to get free access to the American Express Centurion Lounge on your next trip), but they’re valuable nonetheless — only if you use them.
You might know these secret credit card perks exist, but you never bothered to try them. If not, you’re missing out. Together, these 10 often overlooked credit card features could save you hundreds of dollars or more per year.
1. Price protection
You just shelled out big bucks for a new refrigerator, only to see the exact same item on sale at another store two days later for less. Feeling like you paid too much stings a bit, but you have recourse. If the store where you made your purchase doesn’t offer price matching, look to your credit card.
With credit card price protection, you’ll get a refund after you file a claim and submit proof the same item is on sale now for less. Even better, you might be able to request price protection as many as 90 days after your purchase — much longer than most retailers’ price-matching window. If you’re lucky, your card will even do the heavy lifting for you. With Citi Price Rewind, you register your purchase, and the card issuer will automatically search for lower prices over the next 60 days. If it finds one, you get an automatic refund. The average refund was $27.92.
2. Purchase protection
The bad news: Someone snatched your new iPhone from your purse. The good news: You might be able to recoup your losses, even if you don’t have insurance. Fifty-seven percent of credit cards come with purchase protection, according to CreditCards.com, which will replace, repair, or reimburse you for stolen or damaged items.
Purchase protection usually covers items for 90 to 120 after you buy. Not all mishaps are covered (you’re out of luck if you forget your laptop on the train), and some cards will only reimburse up to $500 or $1,000, which might not be enough for big-ticket purchases. Still, this coverage can come in handy if bad luck befalls you. Just make sure you keep your receipt. To prove theft, you’ll also need to get a copy of the police report.
3. Return protection
You decided you didn’t want that new “it” bag after all, but the return window is past. Don’t throw that ill-advised purchase in the Goodwill pile just yet. You might still be able to get your money back using your credit card’s return protection service.
Stores, including Kmart and Best Buy, might only give you 15 or 30 days to change your mind about a purchase. After that, you’re out of luck. But many major credit cards offer 60 to 90 days of return protection, according to NerdWallet. Once you make your claim, just send off your item along with any required documentation, such as a purchase receipt and copy of the store’s return policy, and you’ll get your money back.
4. Extended warranty
If you’ve ever bought a computer, smartphone, or new washing machine, you’ve probably experienced the warranty up-sell at checkout. The sales clerk urges you to protect your shiny new purchase for just a few extra dollars. It sounds like a good deal, but you’re generally better off passing on the coverage, according to Consumer Reports. Chances are the warranty isn’t as extensive as it sounds, and if you do need to make a claim, getting your item fixed might be a big hassle.
A better bet is to decline the coverage, and make your purchase with a credit card. Many cards offer free extended warranty protection of a year or more, according to a WalletHub analysis. You’ll save yourself anywhere from $37 to $123 per item purchased, according to Consumer Reports’ data on average warranty costs.
5. Rental car insurance
Jet-lagged travelers impatient to get their vacation started might bite when the guy at the car rental counter suggests they add supplemental insurance coverage. But you might not need the extra protection. For one, there’s a good chance your personal car insurance already covers rentals, according to the Insurance Information Institute. And if you pay with a credit card, you’ll likely also get some protection. Opting out of the rental company’s coverage could save you as much as $30 per day.
If you’re in an accident in a rental car, your credit card might cover the portion of the bills your primary insurance doesn’t pick up, such as your deductible. A few cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, offer primary coverage, so you won’t have to get your auto insurer involved if you do need to make a claim, potentially saving you money on your premiums. Before you rent, make sure you understand what both your car insurance and your credit card cover. Rentals in foreign countries and certain types of vehicles, such as SUVs or luxury cars, might be excluded.
6. Travel insurance
A medical emergency just forced you to cancel your dream vacation. Fortunately, you might be able to get back some of the money you lost even if you didn’t buy travel insurance, provided you used a credit card with travel insurance protection to book the trip.
Credit card travel insurance might reimburse you for canceled trips, lost luggage, and delays. Some might also include accident insurance or travel emergency assistance. The coverage usually isn’t as comprehensive as what you’d get with a standalone travel insurance policy, limits on coverage might be relatively low, and some things won’t be covered (such as medical evacuation). However, you’ll still get some protection.
Chase Sapphire Preferred, for example, will reimburse you if you can’t travel because of severe weather, an unexpected illness, military orders, or even a jury summons you can’t get out of. You can also get reimbursed for the money you spend on a hotel room because of a delay or the necessities you need to buy if your luggage is delayed.
7. Fraud protection
Identity theft is Americans’ third-biggest financial fear, according to a Chapman University survey. Identity-theft insurance promises to protect you if your personal information is stolen. But experts are divided on whether the coverage, which usually includes credit monitoring and help repairing credit damage after a theft, is worth the money.
If you’re on the fence about identity-theft insurance, know this: Your credit card already offers you some protection. Most card issuers are on the lookout for suspicious activity and will alert you if anything looks unusual. If a thief does use your card for a shopping spree, you won’t be on the hook for much.
Federal laws generally limit your liability for unauthorized credit card use to $50, but many companies won’t expect you to cover any fraudulent charges. Because two-thirds of identity-theft cases involve stolen credit cards, not more extensive identity theft, according to Consumer Reports, your card’s fraud protection might be enough, saving $25 to $60 a year in premiums.
8. Free credit scores
Want to buy a car or get a mortgage? Then, you better know your credit score, the three-digit number that determines whether you’ll get the best rates on a loan or pay out the nose to borrow. The credit reporting agencies that develop the scores will let you see yours, but you’ll have to cough up some cash. You’ll pay $24.99 a month to get a peak at your credit score from Experian. Equifax charges $19.95 per month, and TransUnion costs $9.95 monthly.
Fortunately, it’s now easier to get your credit score without paying a cent. Many credit cards now offer their customers free FICO scores. American Express and Bank of America give all cardholders free credit score access; other banks offer the benefit to select customers. If your credit card doesn’t offer complimentary scores, check out the Discover Credit Scorecard. It’s free to use, even if you’re not a Discover customer. Getting your credit score for free from your credit card service could save you as much as $300 per year on monthly credit score fees.
9. Concierge service
Have you dreamed of what it would be like to have a personal assistant at your beck and call? You might already have one. You credit card’s concierge service provides some of the same benefits of a dedicated personal assistant and at no cost to you. Concierge services are available with cards, such as Visa Signature and MasterCard World. And they’ll help with anything, including getting reservations at a hard-to-book restaurant and more off-the-wall requests.
Four-hour work week guru Tim Ferriss tested the limits of his credit card’s concierge service by asking it to find him a giant tub of nacho cheese and help with a particularly difficult crossword puzzle clue. It came through in both cases.
More realistically, you can use your credit card concierge service to save time by asking it to help with booking theater or concert tickets (sometimes before they go on sale to the general public), making travel arrangements, sending flowers, or locating special or unusual items for purchase.
10. Card-specific perks
Some “secret” perks are common to many cards, such as extended warranties and price protection. Other benefits are card-specific. With your Bank of America card, you get free admission on select days to dozens of museums across the country, including the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where adult admission is a hefty $22 per person.
American Express cardholders get a complimentary ShopRunner membership (a $79 a year value), which includes free shipping at more than 100 online retailers. Investigate your card’s specific perks and promotions to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the available savings.