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Some return protection policies have changed since this article was published. For up-to-date information, check the benefit details in your cardholder agreement.
Retailer return policies can be about as easy to understand as the ingredients on a nacho chips bag. 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 many 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.
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
Among major payment processing networks, Mastercard and American Express offer return protection. Discover eliminated the benefit in 2018. Visa does not offer return protection, but some issuers do, so a Visa-branded card might still offer you the benefit.
Return protection, compared
|Source||Mastercard card benefits guide||American Express return protection FAQ|
|Cards covered||All MasterCards||All American Express cards|
|Duration (from purchase)||60 days||90 days|
|Coverage||Up to $250 per claim, 4 claims per 12 month period||Up to $300 per item, up to $1,000 per year|
|What's covered or excluded||Details in card benefits guide (see below)||Details in AmEx return protection FAQ (see below)|
|Coverage for gifts||Gifts 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.
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.