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Call Your Credit Card Issuer: 5 Times Online Won’t Do

May 29, 2015
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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Calling your credit card issuer isn’t a fun way to spend a morning, and it might seem unnecessary when so much business can be conducted online. But there are at least five customer service situations that are best handled voice to voice.

1. There’s a charge on your statement you didn’t make.

The ability to monitor credit card accounts online makes it easier than ever to spot sketchy transactions. In fact, credit card fraud was the second-most-common type of identity theft reported by consumers in 2013, according to a report by the Federal Trade Commission.

If an unusual purchase shows up on your statement, call your credit card issuer right away to report it. Disputing the charge online may seem sufficient, but time is of the essence if you suspect fraud. To quickly put the kibosh on further unauthorized activity and figure out your next steps, calling to straighten out the matter is your best bet.

From there, be sure to listen to and carefully follow your issuer’s instructions. This may include continuing to watch your account activity, or waiting for a replacement card (with a new account number) to arrive in the mail. Coping with fraudulent credit card activity is a bit of a hassle, but taking the right steps is crucial for protecting your finances.

To learn more about major credit card issuers’ fraud liability policies, see this resource.

2. You’re confused about a credit card benefit.

Most credit card perks – rewards, free FICO scores, etc. – are administered by issuers, not networks. Consequently, if there’s a benefit you don’t understand or that isn’t being provided as expected, it’s the issuer you’ll need to contact to find out what’s going on.

For instance, if your card offers bonus rewards on, say, dining purchases, and one of your restaurant swipes didn’t net you extra points, you should get on the phone to find out why. It might be an error on their end, or it could be a case of you misunderstanding the rewards program.

Either way, you’re entitled to a clear explanation, which might not come from rereading the card’s terms and conditions. Get on the horn to gather some information so that you don’t miss out on any juicy perks in the future.

» MORE: Why nearly every purchase should be on a credit card

3. Your card was unexpectedly declined.

Having your credit card declined is embarrassing, but it should also be cause for concern. For example, it might be a sign that you’ve maxed out the card, or that it’s on ice due to suspicious activity. But there’s no way to know until you follow up with your issuer, and doing so by phone is the fastest way to figure out what’s what.

The steps to take from there depend on the circumstances, but you should be on the fast track to getting your card back in good working order.

For more information about how to cope with a credit card rejection, see this article.

4. Your debt has become unmanageable.

Calling your credit card issuer to admit that you’ve overcharged or are in over your head probably doesn’t seem wise. But it’s in the best interest of both you and your bank that you don’t default – your credit score will plummet, and they’ll lose money on your account, too. So though it seems counterintuitive, the best course of action if you’re struggling to make payments is to call up your issuer and hash it out.

Start by explaining your situation honestly, and then ask what your options are. Be sure to be clear about how much your can afford to pay, because this will prove to the customer service representative that you’re interested in making good on the obligation. Couple this with a polite demeanor, and chances are good you’ll be able to work something out.

5. You forgot to make a payment.

Letting a credit card payment slip your mind is a small mistake, but it can have big consequences if you don’t handle it appropriately. Aside from getting hit with a late fee, you could also see interest charges start to mount, and there’s the possibility your credit score will take a hit, too. The clock is ticking. So as soon as you realize you’ve forgotten to pay, get on the phone with your issuer and try to make it right.

Aside from paying the neglected bill, you should ask if there’s any way to get the late fee reversed, too. Some issuers do this as a policy if it’s your first time making a tardy payment, and there’s even a credit card out there that doesn’t charge late fees at all.

You may not be able to avoid a late fee in the end, but asking is the only way to find out. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to apologize for paying late, which could influence your issuer to think twice about imposing additional consequences, like reporting you to the credit bureaus or jacking up your interest rate. There’s no way to be sure, but asking for a little mercy certainly never hurts.

Lindsay Konsko is a staff writer covering credit cards and consumer credit for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter @lkonsko and on Google+.

Image via iStock.