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Credit Card Return Protection: Where You’re Covered

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Credit Card Return Protection Policies

Retailer return policies can be about as easy to understand as the ingredients listed on your favorite brand of fluorescent-colored nacho cheese chips. You may think you can return that big-screen TV, but the fine print may say otherwise.

That’s when return protection, a service offered for free through most credit cards — but not all — can come to the rescue.

What is return protection?

Return protection is a perk that extends the “return life” of an item or creates a return policy where perhaps none existed before and is typically provided by credit card processors (e.g., MasterCard or American Express) rather than issuers (e.g., Chase or Citi). While retailers themselves have return policies, credit card return protection typically adds more time to return or exchange items.

When you use a credit card return protection feature, you may have to ship the item to an address designated by the processor, which could mean additional costs. MasterCard, for example, requires cardholders to pay for shipping; American Express, on the other hand, says it will reimburse shipping costs.

Nerd note: Visa is the only major payment processor that doesn’t offer return protection directly. However, some cards with the Visa logo may still offer the benefit through the card’s issuer.

How to use return protection

Obtaining return protection, like many credit card benefits, is often as simple as purchasing the item you want covered with your card. Filing a claim, though, typically requires you to submit paperwork, including:

  • A receipt for the item you want to return
  • A credit card statement showing the purchased item
  • A copy of the store’s return policy
  • Written documentation from the store stating its refusal to accept the item

Return protection, compared

 MasterCard*American ExpressDiscover
SourceMasterCard card benefits guideAmerican Express return protection FAQDiscover card benefits guide
Cards covered All MasterCards All American Express cards All Discover cards
Duration (from purchase)60 days90 days90 days
CoverageUp to $250 per claim, 4 claims per 12 month period Up to $300 per item, up to $1,000 per year Up to $500 per item, $2,500 annually
What's covered or excludedDetails in card benefits guide (see below) Details in AmEx return protection FAQ (see below) Details in Discover benefits guide (see below)
Coverage for giftsGifts are covered as long as they were purchased with an eligible card
Additional restrictions Coverage is secondary; if insurance could reimburse you, you must file a claim with your insurer first

*Benefits may vary by issuer. Check your issuer’s benefits guide for complete details.

Top cards for return protection

Discover it® - Cashback Match™

For customers who are cash-back conscious, the Discover it® - Cashback Match™ has you covered. This card offers 5% cash back on categories that change each quarter (up to $1,500 spent per quarter), with 1% cash back offered on all other purchases. Bonus categories have typically included gas, entertainment and various retailers, so you’ll score big on spending all year round.

Tack on 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 14 months, and then the ongoing APR of 11.99% - 23.99% Variable APR, and you have a card that offers return protection, cash back and a nice chunk of time to pay off your purchases, all with an annual fee of $0.

>>More: Credit Card Features You Wish You Had — That Actually Exist

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Another card with return protection, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer lets you earn a lot of cash back anytime. Employing a unique but lucrative rewards structure, this card allows users to earn 1% cash back on all purchases and an additional 1% back when you pay them off.

And, if you’re looking to shift a balance, this card will even give you some breathing room to pay it off: 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.49% - 24.49% Variable APR.

With an annual fee of $0, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer is a great choice for spenders who want to earn the same great cash-back rate on all purchases, large and small.

Chase Freedom®

Though the Chase Freedom® card is a Visa, which doesn’t offer return protection directly, Chase offers its own return protection with this card.

Like the Discover it® - Cashback Match™, the Chase Freedom® card lets cardholders earn cash back with quarterly rotating 5% bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent per quarter), and 1% on all other purchases. Bonus categories have historically included grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and retailers. So, as with the Discover it® - Cashback Match™, it shouldn’t be hard for most cardholders to net significant rewards.

The Chase Freedom® card also comes with a sign-up bonus: Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. And, like the two cards above, there’s a promotional APR: 0% on Purchases and Balance Transfers for 15 months, and then the ongoing APR of 15.99% - 24.74% Variable APR.

With an annual fee of $0, the Chase Freedom® is an all-around solid choice no matter where you spend.

The bottom line

Return protection is a helpful security blanket when an item has to go back. But before you count on it, read your card’s terms and conditions to see what is and isn’t covered.

Kevin Cash is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @kevin_cash.

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