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Credit card cell phone insurance: What you should know and how to get it

By , CardRatings contributor
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    You may be looking for a credit card that offers cell phone protection, and for good reason. The smartphones that need a lot of protection – from us.

    As you may know from your own experience, or from hearing friends and family griping, cell phones often come to a premature end at an owner's hands. For instance, according to a 2011 study from Plaxo, an online address book, one-third of cell phone users have lost or damaged a cell phone, and 19 percent of cell phone users have dropped their cell phones in a toilet. If you have any shred of imagination, you can probably assume that people have, when angry, broken their cell phones in a fit of fury, and when careless, stepped on them.

    The point is – smart phones are smart. Its users, sadly, not always so much.

    But fortunately, if you do damage your cell phone, or if it's stolen, increasingly, you can contact your credit card for help.

    Obviously, when it comes to choosing a credit cards, you want to look at the entire package that comes with the card – from the interest rates to its rewards points or cash back offered to whether there are benefits like concierge services. One good perk probably isn't reason enough to get a certain credit card. But certainly your credit card offering cell phone protection is a nice, worthy amenity that's worth looking at. So if you're thinking of looking for a credit card that offers cell phone insurance or cell phone protection, here's a rundown of what you need to know, and then we'll cover some of the credit cards that have these credit card cell phone protection plans.

    What you need to know about credit card cell phone protection

    If you are thinking about getting a credit card with cell phone protection, and you want it to be a good experience, keep the following rules in mind:

    1. Pay your cell phone bill with your credit card.

    The protection generally only kicks in if you're paying your cell phone bill with your credit card. If you're doing an automatic withdrawal from your checking account to pay for your cell phone, and your cell phone is stolen or damaged, you'll be the one replacing your phone – not your credit card.

    It's also important to remember that you have to pay your cell phone bill with your credit card every month. Let's say you buy your cell phone in the month of February and then set up your cell phone on your credit card's cell phone protection plan, and in September, it's stolen. All along, you've been paying the cell phone bills with your credit card. Except that in July, when you were kind of frazzled, and you made a payment from your bank's checking account. It was just that one month.

    Well, in September, when your phone is stolen, you may find that you're no longer covered. Your coverage ended in July when you made a cell phone payment with your credit card.

    So the best thing, if you want to keep your cell phone insurance, and as your credit card will encourage, is to set up automatic payments with your credit card to your cell phone company.

    That might keep you from making another possible error: if you have two or three credit cards, and you pay your cell phone bill – with the wrong credit card.

    2. Cell phone protection probably won't cover a loss.

    Your credit card probably won't replace your cell phone if you lose it. Theft, yes. Damaged phone, yes. Lost? Bzzzzz. (That is supposed to be the sound of a game show buzzer.)

    It makes sense that a lost phone wouldn't be covered. Generally, credit cards will require that you file a police report for a stolen phone. If your phone is damaged, you can demonstrate to your credit card proof of a damaged phone, unless you damage it and throw it away (so don't do that). But if you lose your phone, there's rarely going to be proof that it's actually lost. Heck, you could find your cell phone in some nook or cranny of your home the day after you get a replacement. If credit cards offered protection for people who lost phones, anyone could theoretically toss theirs in the trash and call their credit card company and say, "Gee, I somehow misplaced my phone. I'd like a new one, thank you…"

    3. These credit card cell phone protection plans are usually supplemental insurance plans.

    That means, if applicable, your homeowner's insurance would pay for the phone first. For instance, if your cell phone was stolen out of your home, your home insurance could pay for your phone's replacement (if you choose to report the theft to them, that is).

    Insurance.com consumer analyst Penny Gusner, however, offers a word of caution. "You may technically have coverage through your homeowner's or renter's insurance policies, but due to the deductible you'd have to pay and now a claim on your insurance claims history that could possibly drive up rates, it's probably not worth making that claim." 

    Furthermore, if you were walking on a street, and someone held you up at gunpoint and took your phone, your regular insurance might still help you out, but it could be an even worse situation for you.

    "If the theft occurred off-site, meaning away from your dwelling, it makes even less sense to claim it as typically insurers will only pay out 10 percent of the total personal property limit for losses outside of your home," Gusner advises. "So if your limit is $5,000, it would only pay $500 and if that is your deductible it's totally not worth telling your insurer since it would pay nothing out."

    Filing a claim with your credit card, however, won’t cause any rates to increase and the deductible is generally much lower than that of regular insurance.

    4. You'll receive the value of your original phone or a comparable replacement.

    In other words, as you've probably guessed, if your cell phone was stolen and cost you $300, you won't be reimbursed for $600.

    5. You might save money with your credit card cell phone protection.

    Kevin Haney, the owner of A.S.K. Benefit Solutions, a web publishing company based in New York City that specializes in personal finance topics, says that he has a Wells Fargo credit card with cell phone protection. When he realized that his credit card came with that, he got rid of his monthly insurance payments that he was paying through his cell phone carrier. Typically that'll run you about $10 a month (Haney's was $8), but if your household has multiple phones, and you were paying for cell phone insurance, getting rid of it and using your credit card's cell phone protection plan instead should help your monthly budget.

    6. The protection isn't unlimited.

    In every case we found, the protection is limited to a certain number of claims (often two) per year as well as a total payout annually (often $1,200 or $600 per incident). In other words, mysteriously smashing your cellphone every time a new version hits the market could very well backfire – plus, remember you'll only be reimbursed the value of your existing phone, not the value of a brand new phone (See Rule 4).

    7. Read the fine print – very carefully.

    You may have a family with, say, two adults and four phone-wielding kids. That doesn't mean all six of your phones are covered. Your credit card may only cover two or three of them, and your plan probably doesn't cover prepaid cell phones.

    In fact, you really want to scrutinize the fine print. Generally, credit cards are looking to offer protection from garden variety thefts and damage. For instance, they may not cover theft if the phone was taken from your luggage stowed in the baggage compartment of the plane (that, though, might fall under the luggage protection insurance offered by some credit cards), but they will cover it if your phone was in your hand-held carry-on.

    Was your phone in a home that was damaged by a flood, hurricane or some other natural disaster? It may not be covered. And then again, it may be. Check that fine print.

    Now let's look at a few of the cards that offer this protection.

    Wells Fargo consumer credit cards cell phone protection

    Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card

    The business cards, debit cards and commercial cards don't offer this protection, but all of Wells Fargo consumer credit cards do. That would be cards like the Wells Fargo Cash Wise Visa® Card, the Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card, and even the Wells Fargo Cash Back College Visa® Card and the Wells Fargo Secured Visa® Card among many more.

    In a nutshell, just pay your monthly cell phone bills with your Wells Fargo consumer credit card, and you'll receive up to $600 in protection (subject to a $25 deductible) – if you damage your phone or if it is stolen.

    Wells Fargo Platinum Visa® Card

    Haney says that he has had to make several claims with his Wells Fargo credit card.

    "Mostly for broken glass and other minor repairs," he says. "The process was straightforward. We called the company and got instructions on next steps. We took the phone to an authorized repair center. They gave us a repair estimate and tracking number. They did the repairs. We submitted a claim and got a check in the mail shortly after."


    Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card cell phone protection

    Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

    If you pay your company's cell phone bills with your Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, you'll get $600 per claim (with a $100 deductible) in cell phone protection against covered theft or damage for you or any employee listed on your monthly cell phone bill. You'll get a maximum of three claims in a 12-month period, and so you and your staff has wiggle room to be pretty unlucky with your phones in a year's time – but not too unlucky.


    U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card cell phone protection

    U.S. Bank Visa PlatinumIf you have a U.S. Bank Visa Platinum credit card, then you have cell phone protection.

    Like the others, coverage is for damage or theft up to $600. There's a $25 deductible, and you can file up to two claims every 12 months. If your phone is stolen or damaged more than twice in a year, boy, do you have bad luck.

    And you can insure your phone and up to three additional cell phones (so, like, your spouse and kids' phones) against damage or theft.


    Fifth Third Bank credit cards cell phone protection

    TRIO® Credit Card from Fifth Third Bank

    Well, here's the bad news: The supplemental coverage isn't as impressive as some of its credit card competitors. You'll get up to $200 in cell phone protection if you have a Fifth Third Bank credit card like the TRIO® Credit Card from Fifth Third Bank or the Truly Simple® Credit Card from Fifth Third Bank, among others. You can also protect two other cell phones on the same wireless bill. You can file claims twice in a year, so if you or a family member have something go wrong with a cell phone twice in 12 months, you're in luck. But three strikes wouldn't be a charm.

    Truly Simple® Credit Card from Fifth Third Bank

    But there is good news: Like Wells Fargo, Fifth Third is very generous when it comes to even their secured credit card cardholders. That's right – if you have a Fifth Third Secured Card, you will also get $200 supplemental coverage for your cell phone. As a general rule, most secured credit cards don't come with a lot of perks and benefits, so this is pretty impressive (and as with the other Fifth Third credit cards, you can also protect two other cell phones, if you or family members have them).


    If you don't get a credit card with cell phone insurance

    As noted earlier, you want to look at all of a credit card's perks and benefits and not just zero in on one, and you may decide that a credit card you like that doesn't offer cell phone protection is better for you. But that said, don't assume that your credit card without cell phone protection won't still offer some protection for your cell phone. It just might – through your card's new purchase protection, for instance. You might be able to get your phone replaced within that first 12 months if something goes wrong with your phone.

    Or if your credit card offers an extended warranty, you might be able to get an extra year of coverage for free, beyond the cell phone's own warranty (if there is one)

    But, of course, to do that, you need to have bought your cell phone with your credit card (as opposed to cash, a debit card or another credit card without the new purchase protection or extended warranty program). You'll also want to save your receipt and the product's warranty paperwork. And then if something does go south with your cell phone, even without official cell phone protection, you know who to call.

    But you may have to use a landline.

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