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Credit cards: Read the small print

If you ask 10 businesses to define fraud, you’ll get 10 different answers. While they might be similar in a general sense, the reality is the parameters get tweaked — depending entirely on if you are a fraud-ee or the fraud-or.

Falling back on the shortest and most direct definition, “Gain Through Misrepresentation,” fraud has a vast reach. Today, with the holidays fast approaching, I want to talk about the goodies on the table right in front of you that nobody tells you about — and because you don’t know you are entitled to them, you don’t pick them up. Though not fraud, somebody is gaining by omission. Is it the same? Perhaps or perhaps not, but let my holiday gift to you be that of education.

ALWAYS READ THE SMALL PRINT. Most contracts throw in small print to tell you what you can’t have! You find out the hard way, after the fact. Ah, but some contracts use that same small print to tell you what are can have and those are the ones I want to discuss. Specifically? CREDIT CARDS!

Listen up, consumers!

If you’re well organized and save everything in neat little file folders, pull the information packet that you received with your primary usage credit cards. Even if you are a person who seldom uses those cards, do this little bit of homework anyway because it’s going to save you money! If your filing system looks like mine — don’t ask — you can pull up the same information on credit card website. If you detest crawling around the internet AND have no filing skills, pick up the phone and call them. Credit card companies WILL tell you these things if specifically asked. They really will.

The first thing you must understand is that no two credit cards are identical. While Visa, Master Card, American Express and Discover all vary from one to the other, so does one Visa card vary from another Visa card. Each has little hidden small print whammies, but each also has little hidden small print (usually bigger small print!) freebies. You need to investigate what you are entitled to and what you are exposed to within the confines of each of your own credit cards! We’re talking money here, folks!

The most popular selling point in recent years is the concept of “points.” Sign on our dotted line and we’ll give you an incentive for choosing us. That incentive might be airline tickets, “points” (which are able to be used for all sorts of things, however similarly subject to additional small print), zero interest rates for a defined period of time — and the list goes on. The problem with most people is that we tend to read and focus on the buzz words … and then stop reading.

If you’re television shopping this year, you’re wisely comparing. And comparing. And comparing. You’re looking at screen size, smart vs. not-so-smart, megahertz, contrast numbers, LED/LCD/plasma picture quality, back lighting vs side lighting. You need to research as best you can, although still understand that, technically speaking, you may not initially understand half of what you read and hear. It’s the same with credit cards.

T’is the season to be jolly! Do you know that if you purchase that television with certain of your credit cards (compare, compare, compare) you may qualify for some magical inclusions?

1. Price Protection: If there is a decrease in price (the number of days varies, usually from 30 to 90, depending upon the provisions of the specific credit card) you qualify for a rebate for an identical product that becomes available at lower cost. The amount of this “insurance” is usually between $500 and $1,000.

2. Roadside Assistance: Many cards now offer this benefit … call them on their 800 number and they’ll get you the help you need. Just as fast as the big guys!

3. Rental car insurance: This one is tricky, but you usually have it as a benefit so you needn’t get talked into that $14.99 a day stuff. It’s best to plan ahead and check this out early, but you can even call the 800 number from the Hertz/Avis/Budget counter and confirm that you have full coverage (or not), no matter the sales/scare tactics spouted by the rental agent.

4. Warranties: Did you know that if you purchase that television with one of many credit cards including this benefit, that the one year manufacturer’s warranty is picked up for a second year by the credit card company? Free! Some double the guarantee period, others add an additional year at the end, etc. Read the small print. It’s usually there! And, yes, if you save your receipt and paper work they DO pay. Rug cleaners, blenders, massage chairs, the works. If it has a guarantee, your credit card may give it a BETTER guarantee.

5. Travel? If you’ve planning on foreign travel, make sure that your credit card offers the benefit of “zero transaction fees” for foreign purchases or accessing/changing money. The older cards — those that have been in your wallet for years — charge. You don’t see it until your bill arrives and many of the cards will lose a customer before they will agree to take it off!

6. Still in Travel: Lost luggage, trip cancellation or interruption (for a covered reason), travel and emergency assistance, hotels, meals, wow. It may all be there; even “lost wallet coverage” on some.

7. Retail Purchase Protection: I love this one! Most items purchased are eligible for protection against theft, fire or accidental breakage for up to a certain amount ($1,000, usually) for a defined period of time (90 days usually) from the date of purchase. Laptops? Phones? This one is a BIG ONE!

8. Returns: On some cards there is a benefit to cover you if you buy something and you don’t like it, and the store will not take it back, the credit card people will cover you.

9. Concierge Service: Got a problem while away from home? Need a hospital, a doctor, a dentist, a hotel, whatever? Call your credit card concierge desk and get the help you need.

Before we finish, here’s number 10.

10. Now read all of the small print. Find out before the fact what you don’t have. All products have attractive features. That’s how marketing works. But all products do not have all features. That’s how profit works. Your job is to know, up front, what’s out there for the picking.

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