Nearly every credit card issuer offers some kind of "protection plan" that promises to cover your monthly payments or wind back your finance charges if you can't work. Yet, under most circumstances, these plans do little more than stack up extra fees without ever adding real value to your account.
Most times, you'll find credit protection plans offered "at no risk to you." That's because you don't have to pay anything if you don't carry a balance. You'll usually hear this pitch when you call to activate a new credit card. In a hurry, and probably wanting to avoid conflict, you agree to let a customer service agent send you the "risk-free information." That's all the plan's marketers need to start billing you for a protection package you'll probably never use.
Credit protection plans only kick in if your personal situation falls into a very narrow set of conditions. If you lose your job through no fault of your own, because of company layoffs or a corporate closure, you'll more than likely get to claim some benefits. However, most plans disqualify workers who leave jobs because of illness. Nor do they cover cardholders who voluntarily choose to separate from their employers for any reason.
You might even run into trouble trying to claim your benefits. Credit card issuers rarely administer the plans themselves. Instead, they rely on third-party companies that require their own procedures. You can't just call the phone number on the back of your card to trigger your coverage. That packet of risk-free information contains the form you'll need to mail in for a claims processor to handle your request.
Along the way, your "risk free trial" can add hundreds of dollars to your balance each year, if you're among the Americans who carry a median value of $5,000 in credit card debt. SmartMoney's Kelli B. Grant ran the numbers, finding that you could stash the equivalent of a monthly premium payment into a simple savings account and wind up with a sizable emergency fund.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may take steps to rein in credit protection plans, especially after a scathing government report that earned airtime on major morning news shows. Until then, try finding other ways to invest the cash you'd otherwise send your credit card issuer.