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Recently, a friend and I both went through separate situations where we became victims of scams and theft. We lost a combined total of almost $4,000. Neither situation had a happy ending. Still, we each learned a lesson that’s important to share. Credit cards could have solved our problems in either circumstance.

As a credit expert by trade, I’ll be the first to warn that credit card debt is bad for you. Yet, I’m also quick to point out that credit cards themselves aren’t the problem. When you use credit cards responsibly, they provide benefits you miss out on with other forms of payment.

Personally, I have a dozen credit cards. Although I didn’t need 12 cards to earn great credit scores, the accounts haven’t held me back in that department. Perhaps the biggest perk credit cards give me is something that many people overlook. When I make purchases with a credit card, it can protect me and my money from people with bad intentions.

The Baseball Team That Never Was

The spring before the COVID pandemic, my husband and I signed our son up for a travel baseball team. The fees for the season totaled $950. The organization required payment upfront, and they didn’t accept credit cards.

As people who pay for almost everything with a credit card (give us all the rewards!), the requirement gave us pause. But, against our better judgment, we paid the sport’s fee via check.

Practices for the baseball team began as scheduled, but we soon learned there weren’t enough players to form a full baseball team. We were told, “More players are trying out and will join soon.” Yet, a few weeks passed and the numbers didn’t grow.

Shortly thereafter, the organization closed. All future practices and games were canceled. We were promised a refund, but when we followed up, we only received excuses. Soon the “call me back tomorrow” responses turned into no answer at all. It was clear we weren’t getting our money back.

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The Case of the Stolen Cash

Around the same time as the baseball debacle, my friend (who we’ll call Nancy for the sake of privacy) had an unfortunate situation that cost her $3,000. Nancy saved for a year and took her family on a Walt Disney World vacation using an all-cash budget. On the first day of their trip, someone stole Nancy’s wallet and her entire $3,000 vacation fund along with it.

Nancy reported the theft, but there was no way to get back the missing cash. She requested a new debit card from her bank and it was overnighted to her home address. A friend then overnighted the debit card to Nancy in Florida. The family followed a strict budget and borrowed $1,500 for food and travel expenses from another savings account rather than cancel their trip. The $3,000 in stolen cash was never recovered.

Advantages of Credit Cards

Both scenarios above could have been less horrible if Nancy or I had used a credit card. In the case of the baseball fiasco, there was no easy way, outside of a courtroom, to try to recuperate our losses when services weren’t delivered as promised. Because we paid with a check, we couldn’t dispute the charge with our bank.

Of course, a company doesn’t have to honor my request to pay with a credit card. But, if my request is refused, I can always take my business elsewhere.

Had I insisted on paying with a credit card, I would have had the option to dispute the charge under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA). Per the FCBA, if you use a credit card you have 60 days to dispute a transaction when a merchant fails to perform the services it promised. If my credit card company’s investigation had ended in my favor, I would have gotten the $950 back.

In Nancy’s situation, if her stolen wallet held a credit card instead of a pile of cash, she wouldn’t have lost her money. She could have called her card issuer, reported the card as stolen, and requested a replacement. The FCBA would have protected her from liability for any unauthorized charges. In fact, if Nancy carried certain American Express cards, she might have been issued a new card number right away that would work through her digital wallet.

In addition to fraud protections, the best credit cards offer both travel and purchasing benefits.

Purchase Protection

Purchase protection covers eligible purchases in the event of theft, accidental damage and sometimes loss. It’s usually limited to the first few months after you make a covered purchase with your card.

Some notable cards that offer purchase protection include:

American Express® Gold Card

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 Read the review
  • APR20.24% – 27.24% Variable
  • Annual Fee$250
  • 60,000 60,000Membership Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 within the first six months of card membership. Terms Apply Dollar Equivalent: $1,140 (60,000 Membership Rewards Points * .019 base)

Those that spend a large portion of their budget on food, either at U.S. supermarkets or restaurants worldwide, will find a lot of value with this credit card. The ability to earn valuable Amex Membership Rewards® points is icing on the cake.

Overview

Thanks to its generous rewards and attractive benefits, the American Express® Gold Card is one of the most popular rewards credit cards on the market. While most credit cards these days are targeted towards frequent travelers, this card offers practical benefits that come in handy in your everyday life as well as your travels.

Pros

  • Earns valuable Membership Rewards points
  • One of the most valuable credit cards for food, including at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants worldwide
  • An array of credits that help offset the card’s annual fee

Cons

  • Use it or lose it credits
  • Perks are not for everyone

Chase Sapphire Preferred®

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  • Our Rating 5/5 Read the review
  • APR20.24% – 27.24% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$95
  • 60,000 60,000Chase Ultimate Rewards Points More Info

    Earn 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 within three months of account opening. Dollar Equivalent: $1,320 (60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points * .022 base)

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is at the top of our list of starter travel rewards cards. Between a digestible $95 annual fee, valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points that can be transferred to over a dozen hotel and airline partners, and easy ways to earn points, this is a top card for rewards beginners and experts alike.

Overview

The Chase Sapphire Preferred actually works like having over a dozen different rewards credit cards. That’s because this credit card allows you to transfer your rewards points into miles with 11 airlines and points with three hotel programs.

Although the Chase Sapphire Preferred might not be ideal for the most frequent travelers and highest spenders, it’s part of a family of Chase cards that has a built-in upgrade path. So when it comes time to take your travel rewards game to the next level, you won’t have to start from scratch with an entirely different credit card and rewards program.

The card has a $95 annual fee, but the $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit effectively reduces that fee to $45. Plus, the credit card allows you to continue earning points through bonus categories and a 10% anniversary points boost. But when it comes time to redeem your rewards for travel, this card really shines. You can take advantage of some really strong transfer partners such as United, Southwest, Singapore Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Hyatt. Similarly, you can just book any reservation you want through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Pros

  • Points are easily transferable to airlines and hotel partners
  • Accelerated earnings on dining, travel & household purchases
  • Excellent travel and purchase protections
  • No foreign transaction fees

Cons

  • Not ideal for the highest spenders
  • $95 annual fee

Ink Business Cash® Credit Card

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Secure application on issuer’s website

  • Our Rating 4.5/5 Read the review
  • APR17.49% – 23.49% (Variable)
  • Annual Fee$0
  • $900 $900Cash Bonus More Info

    This card offers you $900 in cash back after you spend $6,000 on purchases within three months of account opening.

Small business owners and sole proprietors who want flexibility in their credit card rewards will certainly benefit from this no-annual-fee card, especially if you spend on select categories.

Overview

The Ink Business Cash is legendary for its offer of 5% cash back for purchases at office supply stores and on many telecommunications services, with no annual fee. And while 5% cash back sounds great, these rewards can be much more valuable when paired with another Chase credit card that allows transfers to airline miles or hotel points. In addition to earning excellent cash-back rewards, it also includes competitive introductory offers and provides cards for employees at no additional charge.

Pros

  • No annual fee
  • 5x back on a broad array of business spending categories
  • Robust travel and purchase protections
  • Don’t need a full-fledged business to apply

Cons

  • Businesses that don’t spend on the category bonuses won’t benefit

Travel Protection

When you use a credit card to pay for travel expenses, travel protection benefits could kick in if your trip doesn’t go as planned. From travel delay reimbursement to trip cancellation coverage, the right travel credit card could protect you in a big way.

If you’re looking for a credit card with travel protection benefits, you might consider one of the following:

Bottomline

Are you worried about racking up debt or paying expensive interest fees? As long as you manage your account wisely (e.g., you pay on time and in full every month), you can take advantage of credit card benefits without wasting money on interest fees.

Credit cards are the clear winner when it comes to protecting your hard-earned money. Cash, checks and even debit cards simply don’t offer you the same robust protections that credit cards do.

ML

Michelle Lambright Black

Michelle Black is founder of CreditWriter.com and HerCreditMatters.com. Michelle is a leading credit card journalist with over a decade and a half of experience in the financial industry. She’s an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring, identity theft, budgeting, small business, and debt eradication. Michelle is also a certified credit expert witness and personal finance writer.