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Credit Card Features You Wish You Had (and Might Have)

June 13, 2016
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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Credit card rewards — cash back, miles or points — get so much attention that many people aren’t aware of the other perks that their cards offer. But some of these features can be just as valuable as the rewards that show up on your statement, especially if you use those perks frequently.

What kind of benefits can you expect? It all depends on your specific credit card, of course, but here’s an overview of what may be available.

1. Insurance for rental cars and travel

Many credit cards offer rental car insurance or travel insurance, so you may not need to pay extra for coverage when you’re on the road. But study the fine print of your card agreement before you rely on your card for coverage.

For example, most credit cards that provide rental car insurance offer secondary coverage. Secondary coverage pays only what your primary car insurance policy doesn’t cover. This means you’ll still have to file a claim with your auto insurer — which may increase your premium — and pay a deductible. If you don’t own a car, and therefore don’t have your own car insurance policy, you may still need to pay for the primary rental insurance offered by the auto rental company.

To qualify for your credit card’s rental car insurance, you must use the card to pay for the vehicle and decline insurance coverage on the rental agreement.

Travel insurance benefits offered by credit card companies also vary widely in what is actually covered. Some policies pay for everything from medical evacuation to trip cancelation fees to reimbursement for lost luggage. Others pay for very little. Before you take that big trip, check what kind of coverage is provided by your credit card issuer and consider buying an independent policy that fills in the gaps.

» MORE: Do I need travel insurance?

2. Purchase protection, price guarantees and extended warranties

If you’re making a big purchase such as a household appliance or a new suit, it’s helpful to have a credit card that’s got your back. Some cards can protect shoppers in different ways.

  • Purchase protection covers theft or damage of an item for a limited period of time.
  • Price protection refunds the difference if you make a purchase and then find the same item for a lower price within a certain period of time.
  • Extended warranties add up to a year of coverage on eligible purchases in addition to the warranty provided by the manufacturer.

3. Travel perks and roadside assistance

Many people carry airline credit cards to score free flights with frequent flier mileage rewards. But just because a ticket is free doesn’t mean you fly free. Ancillary costs, such as checked bags and in-flight Wi-Fi, food and drinks, can add up — especially if you aren’t flying solo. Many airline credit cards offer free checked bags as an extra perk, and higher-end credit cards often reimburse you for the cost of applying for the TSA PreCheck or Global Entry programs. If you qualify, these programs can help you bypass long lines at security checkpoints and customs. Some premium travel cards also give you access to exclusive airport lounges.

For driving vacations, see if your credit card offers free roadside assistance. This perk can save you money on towing fees, and you may not have to pay for an auto club membership. Check your benefits statement to see exactly what is covered. Some cards advertise “24/7 roadside assistance,” but all they do is arrange for help. You still bear the costs.

4. Credit-building tools

Using a credit card responsibly is the quickest way to build your credit history. So it makes sense for issuers to offer cardholders special tools to monitor and improve their credit. A growing number of credit cards offer free FICO scores, and some offer more comprehensive tools so that users can take an active role in improving their scores.

5. Investment rewards

Spending credit card rewards on vacations or merchandise can be fun, but some people prefer to use the rewards to feather their nests instead. Some credit cards allow cardholders to have rewards deposited automatically in investment accounts, such as individual retirement accounts, 529 college savings plans or simpler accounts in which the reward money is invested in stocks and mutual funds.

When choosing your next credit card, look beyond the rewards and sign-up bonus. It may take extra research, but it can be worth it to find a card with features that make life easier.

Ben Luthi is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @benluthi. NerdWallet writer Virginia C. McGuire also contributed to this report.

This article was updated June 13, 2016. It was originally published July 16, 2015.