4 things you must know about emergency credit card replacement

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Losing a credit card while traveling – whether halfway across the world or just a few hours' drive away from home – can be an emergency of disastrous proportions. The good news is that if you prepare in advance and take a few precautions while you're on the road, the damage will likely be minimal to both your travels and your finances.

4 things you must know about emergency credit card replacement

Every credit card company and bank will replace your card in case of emergency, but how fast it arrives and who pays for it may vary based on where you want it sent, how fast you want it and how good a customer you are.

What constitutes an emergency? "It's an emergency if your card is no longer in your possession and you don't know where it is," says Harrine Freeman, a personal finance expert in Washington, D.C.

If an emergency hits, here's how to get your credit card replaced as painlessly as possible.

1. Don't wait or it could cost you
As soon as you realize your card is stolen or lost and you need a replacement, call your bank's emergency contact number. In most cases, you can go to the bank's website and type in "stolen card." There, you'll find a link to a page with the emergency toll-free number. If that fails, check the website's "Contact us" page for another customer service phone number. Once you report the card missing, the bank will immediately cancel the card and block further charges. They'll also order a replacement card with a new account number. It's vital that you call as soon as possible; waiting imperils your standing under "zero liability" policies.

Some credit card companies replace lost cards overnight to their customers without charge. If you hold an airline frequent flyer or hotel-branded card, they'll often provide customers with free expedited service, even overseas.

Kyle Schroeder of Los Angeles says that he's been a Discover customer for 10 years, primarily because of the company's track record in card replacement. "I've lost my card twice over the years, and they overnighted it to me free of charge without asking," something that his two other credit card companies didn't do, he says.

However, according to Gregory Meyer of Meriwest Credit Union in San Jose, California, there is one instance in which you won't receive your replacement card immediately, thanks to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act, which passed in 2008. "If a customer changes his or her address and then calls back within 30 days to request a replacement card, the credit issuer is required to validate the new address before sending out the card," says Meyer. This protects the bank and customer against fraud.

2. Out of the country? No problem
If you're overseas, both Visa and Mastercard have online directories where you can look up the number to call when you're traveling in a particular country. Or you can check the chart below for the number where you can call collect to report a stolen card and arrange for a replacement.

American Express has more than 2,200 travel service offices located around the world where you can walk in and ask for a new card. For this reason, Dan Nainan of New York prefers American Express. "I think they're the only company that realizes that they make more money when they replace your card quickly," he says.

3. Cash to the rescue
On average, according to Freeman, it takes five to seven business days for a replacement card to arrive from the date you make the request.

If you have other cards or other ways to access funds, you may be able to wait it out. But if you can't, many banks offer emergency cash advances via wire transfer to tide you over until the new card arrives, as long as the card isn't maxed out.

4. Expect the best, prepare for the worst
Some of your preparation begins before you leave home. You can't totally prevent a card from being stolen, but you can design a backup plan to make the replacement process as painless as possible.

First, make a list of your card account numbers and the international phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen. Bring one copy of the list with you, and leave another with a friend or relative back home. You can also send this information to yourself to an e-mail account that you can access online.

If you have more than one credit card account, bring at least two with you on a trip, but keep them in separate places; store one in your wallet and stash the other one in your laptop case or stow it in the safe in your hotel room.

Remember, your card doesn't have to be stolen for you to request a replacement card. Jason Land of San Diego was visiting San Francisco last year when he received a call from Wells Fargo on his cellphone to ask if he'd just spent $700 at a Los Angeles drugstore. "When I said 'no,' we then confirmed all of my purchases from the previous month," he said. The bank canceled Land's card – even though he still had it – and sent a new one.

Emergency card replacement contact information
from major credit card networks and issuers
Issuer In the U.S. From overseas (call collect)
American Express (800) 964-8542 (336) 393-1111
Bank of America (800) 732-9194 (302) 738-5719
Capital One (800) 955-7070 (804) 934-2001
Chase (800) 432-3117 (302) 594-8200
Citibank (800) 950-5114 (605) 335-2222
Discover (800) DISCOVER (801) 902-3100
MasterCard (800) 627-8372 (636) 722-7111
Visa (800) 847-2911 (410) 581-9994
Wells Fargo (800) 642-4720 (925) 825-7600

See related: 5 key federal laws that protect cardholders, Credit card perks can make them good travel partners, A guide to traveling with a credit card, Avoid headaches with this 5-step plan for traveling with credit cards

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Updated: 10-19-2018