As anyone who has one knows, credit cards can come in handy, not just because you can make purchases if you don't have ready cash, but because many of them offer side benefits. For example, some provide flight insurance if you purchase your plane ticket with the card. Some also cover auto insurance when you rent a car. But one important benefit is the protection you receive if your purchases are damaged or stolen.
Visa has a program that applies to all of its business cards and some lines of its personal cards to protect you if your purchases are stolen or damaged. Visa does not cover lost items. Visa will replace or repair damaged items and will replace stolen items if they were purchased entirely with your card. The loss must occur within 90 days of the purchase to be eligible for repair or reimbursement. Your goods are covered for up to $500 per claim. If the goods are damaged, it must be due to fire, vandalism, accidentally discharged water or certain weather conditions, at a benefit administrator's discretion. Not all card issuers offer all coverages; Visa suggests you check the terms and conditions of your issuer.
MasterCard also has a program to help you if your goods are damaged or stolen. It does not cover lost items. Your goods are only covered for 90 days after the purchase. The benefits from MasterCard vary by card type and the bank that issued it. You can call MasterCard to check your benefits, regardless of which bank issued your card.
Discover also has a merchandise protection program, but it is only available with its business card line. Discover insures your purchased business merchandise up to 90 days from the date of purchase. It covers theft and damage as well as fire damage as a separate type of damage rather than as a cause of the damage, like Visa does.
American Express offers purchase protection against theft or damage, but does not cover lost purchases. American Express covers your damaged or stolen goods up to a value of $1,000 per occurrence and up to $50,000 per cardholder annually. American Express even covers products you purchase as gifts. American Express covers only accidental damage to your goods and covers theft or damages up to 90 days from the purchase date. One caveat is that American Express is the secondary insured, so if you have renter's, homeowner's or auto insurance that may cover the loss, you must file with the other insurance first, and American Express will pick up the difference up to the coverage limit.