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Can your credit card save you in an emergency?

By , CardRatings contributor
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Can your credit card be a financial lifesaver? You bet. In fact, there are myriad situations where your plastic can bail you out.

Whether it's using a card to pay for car repairs when out of town, or saving you from onerous merchandise warranty fees, your credit card can fix a financial problem -- and fast -- just when you need it.

How can your credit cad bail you out? Let's count the ways:

Options while traveling - "A credit card often is necessary to hold reservations or to enable the travel transaction at all," says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix operations for Freedom Financial Network. "If you're traveling and find that there are no taxis available, or your ride cancelled, or the subway has a major delay, or your flight was cancelled, sometimes the best alternative is a rental car. Being able to call (or go online) and reserve it with a credit card can feel like salvation."

An extra measure of protection - "If a credit card is stolen, you can notify the issuer to cancel the account," Gallegos adds. "A pre-loaded credit card is even safer than your own; if stolen and someone gets the account number, it's not connected to any of your other accounts. You don't lose cash, and you don't risk your regular credit card account number."

When disaster strikes - Credit cards are one potential solution to an immediate unforeseen expense, notes Randy Hopper, a vice president of credit card lending at Navy Federal Credit Union.

He offers a laundry list of situations where credit cards can mitigate a potential problem:

  • Breakdown of major appliance -- AC, refrigerator, etc.
  • Removal of a fallen tree on your property
  • Emergency home repair: plumbing, electrical, etc.
  • Unforeseen medical expenses

Credit card rewards program - Hopper adds that card rewards programs can help in tough situations. "Credit card rewards allows you to make the most of your spending," he explains. "For example, you could apply the cash back you earn on an emergency purchase toward paying down your card balance. "

A credit card can buy you time - and bail you out - Financial attorney and debt specialist Leslie Tayne, Esq. of the Tayne Law Group, PC says that while you should always have at least three months' worth of expenses saved up in an emergency fund should emergency strike, but there may come a time where your credit card might be the best way out in a financial crisis.

For instance, if you have something break in your house that is very expensive, you might want to consider putting it on a credit card, Tayne says. "This will not only give you a longer period of time to pay off the item, but will also give you purchase protection and a limited warranty on the purchase depending on the credit card you use." Before making the purchase, call up the credit card company you want to use and ask them if they offer purchase protection so you are able to take advantage of this benefit should it be available, she advises.

Protection against contractor problems - Tayne says that if you are getting repairs on your house, and are worried that the job may not be guaranteed should you pay in cash, opt to charge instead. "That will provide you with proof of the repair should something does wrong with the work in the future," she says.

Disputes with online purchases - Cardholders may face problems that go beyond dealing with a bad contractor - any vendor/customer relationship can results in headaches.

"If you are doing business with a vendor you are not too familiar with and are unsure of, a credit card can be beneficial for any purchases made with that vendor," says Tayne. "You might need to refute any inappropriate charges or should you return the item and not receive refund," she says. "In that regard, credits cards can buy you some peace of peace of mind and protections when making purchases online with such vendors as eBay, especially when you are unfamiliar with the vendor." That way, you have proof of the purchase and the ability to refute charges in the event that you don't receive the item or are issued a refund upon returning the item, she adds.

Consumers who look at their credit card and see just a shiny piece of plastic are missing the mark. That card is actually a shield against financial loss or personal disaster - and can bail you out of some sticky situations out there in the real world.

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