Purchase protection doesn’t get as much attention as other card benefits like lounge access or travel credits, but it can be exceptionally valuable – if you know your issuer’s terms.
One good but little-known reason to wield your credit card when making purchases is to take advantage of purchase protection.
Putting a purchase on the right piece of plastic may help you have it replaced if what you buy is damaged or stolen, get a refund for an unsatisfactory product or service or even extend the manufacturer’s warranty without paying a dime for the added protection.
“People should know what’s on their cards and the benefits available, and they should use them,” says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for nonprofit Consumer Action. “Those protections are part of what you’re paying for, so don’t let them go unused.”
Here’s everything you need to know about purchase protection benefits and whether the top credit cards offer them.
Purchase protection: At a glance
What is purchase protection?
Purchase protection is a benefit offered with some credit cards. It allows a cardholder to receive a refund or replacement if the item purchased with an eligible credit card is damaged or stolen.
Purchase protection can come with extended warranty that adds to the original warranty and return protection that can help you if a merchant doesn’t refund you when you’re trying to return an eligible item.
Purchase protection benefits offered by credit cards
|Benefit||What it does||Card networks that offer it|
|Basic protection||Covered by the Fair Credit Billing Act, it protects you in any dispute over any goods or services purchased with a credit card||All credit cards|
|Extended warranty||Adds to the original manufacturer’s warranty on eligible items purchased with the specific card||Visa, Mastercard, American Express|
|Purchase protection||Covers damaged, lost or stolen eligible items purchased with the specific card||Visa Infinite*, Mastercard, American Express|
|Return protection||Allows you to claim a refund when the seller won’t return your money on eligible purchases made with the specific card||Visa Infinite*, Mastercard, American Express|
Purchase protection benefits by card issuer
These benefits may differ from issuer to issuer – and from card to card. To find a comprehensive guide on your issuer’s purchase protection terms, pick your issuer from the list below:
Basic protection is covered by law
The first and most basic layer of protection on your purchases comes from the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, which protects you in a dispute over the goods or services you’ve purchased.
These protections are available when you use any credit card to make a purchase – even if the card issuer doesn’t offer additional coverage.
Say the Xbox your kids received for Christmas is defective. Generally, any merchant is going to exchange or return that item. However, if there’s a problem, you can request a chargeback from your card issuer so you don’t have to pay for the faulty present.
Note that under those federal rules,
- You first have to try and work out the dispute with the merchant.
- The purchase must have been more than $50 and made in your home state or within 100 miles of your home.
- Phone, online and mail purchases can still be covered, but it’ll depend on your state or other applicable laws.
Beyond that basic coverage is where you’ll see individual card benefits kick in.
This benefit covers damaged, lost or stolen items purchased on the specific card (with several limitations) and will replace, repair or reimburse you for the lost or damaged item. The claim period typically is 90 days after the purchase, but that can vary from card to card. Coverage may be capped at anywhere from $500 to $50,000, along with an annual cap.
You’ll need receipts and usually a police report for a stolen item, a repair estimate or picture of a damaged item and you’ll likely have to hang on to anything damaged. Coverage is secondary to homeowners or auto insurance, and some policies exclude items stolen from vehicles.
Best cards for purchase protection
|Card||Annual fee||Purchase protection|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||$550||$10,000 per claim and $50,000 per account|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||$695||$10,000 per incident and $50,000 per year|
|American Express® Gold Card||$250||$10,000 per incident and $50,000 per year|
This benefit adds to the original manufacturer’s warranty when eligible items are purchased using your card. The length of the added coverage can extend from a year to two years, and some coverage only applies to warranties of 12 months or less. The limit on each claim typically is $10,000 with a $50,000 annual cap on the entire account.
Comparing the best extended warranty policies
|Credit card issuer or network||Extended warranty coverage||Original warranty maximum length||Extended warranty length|
|American Express||$10,000 per claim, up to $50,000 per account per year||5 years||1 year|
|Chase||$10,000 per claim, up to $50,000 per account||3 years||1 year|
|Citi||$10,000 per claim||5 years||2 years|
|Visa||$10,000 per claim, up to $50,000 per cardholder||3 years||1 year|
Citi is the hands-down winner, adding 24 months onto any manufacturer’s or extended warranty up to seven years from the purchase date, up to $10,000 or the amount originally charged.
Despite the paperwork hassles of filing a claim, this benefit works. Sherry recalls one friend whose recently purchased coat disappeared from a party. “It was a brand-new overcoat bought with an American Express card, and he got a new one,” she says.
“You don’t have to buy an extended warranty. If you’re buying an item with a one-year warranty, it can be magical. You can get three years just by putting it on the right card.”
Extended warranties also come with a few catches
Limitations on extended warranties include:
- Requirements that the items be new, not used or floor models, and that the item comes with an original manufacturer’s warranty of no more than 12 months.
- Most extended warranties also won’t cover anything that’s excluded from the manufacturer’s warranty.
While much less common than extended warranty and purchase protection perks, this benefit extends the retailer’s refund policy, allowing you to claim a refund when the seller won’t return your money. In most cases, you’ve got 60 to 90 days to file.
The most common limits are up to $300 on each refund and an annual limit of $1,000 per account.
Usually, it doesn’t cover damaged or defective items, as well as plants, shrubs, animals, pets, food and perishables and any kind of stored data or music, including software, tickets or anything permanently installed.
Examples of purchases typically covered include clothing, electronics, accessories and other common holiday gifts.
Best cards for return protection
|Card||Annual fee||Coverage terms|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95||Up to $300 per item and up to $1,000 per year|
|The Platinum Card® from American Express||$695||Up to $300 per item and up to $1,000 per year|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||$550||Up to $500 per item and up to $1,000 per year|
What you need to know to make these benefits work
Here are a few things you should keep in mind when considering using purchase protection benefits:
- Time is of the essence. Both purchase security and return protection come with limits, usually 90 days but 120 days under the most generous offers, so you’ll need to act quickly.
- There also are limits on how much you can collect. Coverage for purchase security can be limited per claim, even with the most generous cards. So, for example, an expensive stolen engagement ring might not be completely replaced.
- Lost or stolen? You’ll have to prove it. Most cards won’t reimburse you for something that “just goes missing” without a clear indication of loss or theft. You’ll need a police report, itemized store receipt and copies of insurance coverage and any claims you file.
- Not every card offers coverage. Benefits vary not only from network to network, but also within cards. Extended warranty coverage, for instance, might be all that’s on a basic card with more and better deals on more elite cards.
- Review your card’s terms and conditions to learn more about stipulations, paperwork requirements and further coverage and benefit details. Pay particular attention to how to file a claim – there are time limits and paperwork requirements, such as an original receipt.
- When in doubt, call. If you didn’t keep your original statement of terms or can’t find it online, call customer service at the phone number on the back of your card. “Just call and flat-out ask,” says Beverly Harzog, credit card expert and author of “The Debt Escape Plan.” As a customer, “you’re certainly entitled to find out what your benefits are.”
Do you know what benefits are offered by your card?
Chances are, no.
“Part of the problem is that people don’t even know that these things exist,” says Harzog. “How many people get their packet of credit card terms and think, ‘I can’t wait to read all of this!’ In many cases, the benefits aren’t as transparent as they should be. Otherwise, people would be using these benefits a lot because they can really help them out.”