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Your relationship with your credit card provider may seem pretty cut-and-dried. But your credit cards may offer hidden benefits and secret perks that you may not be aware of, which go well beyond frequent flyer miles. Some special offers are listed in the fine print of your credit card agreement, but many others aren’t public knowledge at all. These special offers are only available to customers who know exactly what to ask for and how to negotiate.
From avoiding fees to scoring free hotel stays, here are 10 secret or little-known perks that you may be able to score from your credit card provider.
1. Get an immediate credit limit increase. Though credit providers are less likely to increase your credit limit in the current economic climate than in days past, you can still negotiate a higher balance under the proper conditions, says Ken Clark, a certified financial planner and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Out of Debt.
“The biggest trick is to ask for it in conjunction with a large purchase,” says Clark. If you can make the case that you want a balance increase because you want to make repairs on your home or you’re buying a new laptop, says Clark, your request is more likely to be approved than if you’re simply planning to use the card for everyday expenses. It’s also important to be a long-term customer in good standing. If you’ve skipped out on several payments in the past, the request is sure to be denied.
In addition to providing you with more credit to spend on large purchases, this can be a good strategy to instantly increase your credit score, too. “30% of your credit score comes from what is called the ‘utilization ratio,’” says Clark, which is “calculated by dividing your total outstanding balances by your total possible limits.” So, if the credit limit increase is substantial, “or if paired with paying down your existing balances, it can have a significant effect on your credit score (FICO) in a relatively short amount of time.”
2. Delay a payment. “If you’re having difficulty paying, skip a month,” says Sara Petty, vice president of The Members Group payment consulting firm. Times are tough for everyone these days, and sometimes it can be difficult to even make the minimum monthly payment on your credit card if you’ve just incurred a big expense. If you know in advance that you’re not going to be able to cover a monthly bill, call your credit card provider and ask for permission to delay payment until the following month. Assuming that you’re a customer in good standing without a history of late payments, your provider is likely to waive your late fee and continue to report a “current” payment status to credit bureaus until the following month when you can make the full payment. While it’s never ideal to miss a payment, you can reduce your risk of hurting your credit rating by being honest and open with your provider.
3. Waive your late fee. If you attempt to make an online payment that doesn’t go through, or you never receive an invoice from your credit card provider, you have a good excuse to request that the credit company remove the resulting late payment fee on your next statement. Simply call your provider and explain the circumstances, and the fee will likely be waived. Even if the error is your own fault, you may still be able to get the fee removed from your bill “if you’re a great consumer and haven’t missed a payment in a year or two,” says Clark—however, this request will probably only work once, so be careful about paying on time in the future.
4. Negotiate a lower interest rate. This one is easy, says Clark: “Simply call in with another offer in your hand, and negotiate with them for a better rate.” Be polite, and tell your credit card company that you’ve enjoyed using their service, but you’ve found a better value option. Your credit card provider doesn’t want to lose your business, so you can leverage another provider’s offer to reduce your interest rate significantly, matching or even beating the competitor’s offer.
5. Transfer credit card funds into your bank account. “Consumers who have excellent credit, assuming the bank has a zero percent interest balance transfer offer, can ask for blank balance transfer checks,” says Oren Milgram, CEO of StudentMarket.com, an online shopping and credit resource for college students. There is often a $50 to $75 fee associated with the transfer, but if you don’t have any major upcoming expenditures, depositing the credit in a high-interest online savings account, short-term CD, or Money Market mutual fund can be a way to earn interest on your credit card balance until you need to use the card again. However, be sure to repay the initial funds by the end of the grace period (typically six to twelve months), or you’ll face massive interest fees.
6. Get merchant surcharges for credit card transactions removed. With the exception of schools and government offices, it’s generally illegal for merchants to charge an additional fee for credit card users, regardless of the purchase price. When making your purchase, tell the store manager to waive the surcharge. If your credit card statement still shows an additional merchant fee, you can report the incident to your credit card company as a violation according to the instructions listed in their Merchant Abuse Policy, and the fee will be removed.
7. Double your warranty on new purchases. When you make an expensive purchase like a new computer or refrigerator, there’s no need to buy the extended warranty that you’ll be offered at the store. As long as you use a major credit card to make the purchase, “your provider will automatically match the warranty up to a year on new purchases,” says Clark.
8. Take advantage of your card’s free car rental insurance coverage. Many cards offer free protection against damage on rental cars, so call your card provider to find out if you’re eligible.
9. Get discounted stays or complimentary upgrades at hotels, discounted meals at restaurants across the United States, and other travel perks. Major credit card providers offer many little-known discounts and upgrades on food and travel expenses that are each worth hundreds of dollars. Pull out your original welcome packet, or log onto the card issuer’s Web site for specific deals and offers.
10. Some cards, including American Express Gold, provide Best Value Guarantee (BVG) protection on new purchases made with the card. If you see a print advertisement listing an eligible item for a lower price, send the company your receipt and a copy of the ad to receive a refund of up to $250 against your original purchase price.