March 17, 2016 – By Dawn Papandrea
We’ve grown accustomed to going online to carry out routine credit card business, whether to pay a bill, check the balance or redeem rewards points. But as convenient as it is to log in to your issuer’s app or website, in some circumstances an older tool is still best: the telephone.
“The benefit of the phone is you will have to answer some security questions and be authenticated, so you can have a more detailed conversation about your account,” says Randy Hopper, vice president of credit cards for Navy Federal Credit Union.
Messaging your issuer on social media or starting a live chat might limit your interaction. “When you call, your issuer is going to know it’s you on the other end of the line and you can get the answers and resolution you need,” says Hopper.
If you’re confused about terms or have any problem at all, just make the call, says Katie Ross, education and development manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling. “I do it. If I have questions about the card or payments or a situation to discuss, I absolutely use that number. That’s why it’s there,” she says.
Here are five times when you, too, should consider dialing up some credit card account assistance:
1. To Ask for a Late Fee Pass
Even the most responsible cardholders can accidentally miss a payment, and that $25-$35 late charge will sting. “If you’ve had a strong payment history and happen to miss a payment, it’s a good idea to contact the creditor,” says Ross. Explain your situation, such as if you were under the weather or traveling, and that the due date slipped your mind.
Most times, they will happily reverse your late charge. According to a 2016 CreditCards.com survey, most who ask get late fees waived and rates reduced. Some card issuers even have a policy of waiving the first late fee. Of course, if you’re notorious for being late or missed another payment recently, chances are they won’t be as forgiving.
2. If You’re Struggling Financially
If you think you’re going to have some difficulty making your payment, call before you reach that point, advises Hopper. “Keep that dialogue open. If you anticipate some sort of life change, lost your job or have health or family issues, let your issuer know so they can work with you,” he says.
Ross agrees, adding that many companies have hardship programs in place for this very purpose.
“Don’t be afraid of reaching out if you might be getting into financial trouble. If you can show a good faith effort to make your payments on time, it will be easier to get assistance,” she says.
In some cases, creditors might even take the lead and offer some temporary payment flexibility, such as if you’re in an affected area where a natural disaster took place. For personal situations, however, it’s up to you to make them aware of your problem.
3. To Respond to a Message From the Creditor
A lot of digital correspondence does take place nowadays, but if ever you get an email or text from a credit issuer asking you for information, making a direct call can protect you from what might very well be a phishing scam, says Leonard Wright, a member of the AICPA’s Consumer Education Advocates Group.
A typical scam message might claim to be alerting you to a suspicious purchase, with a prompt for you to dispute it online. “However, when you click the link, it is not your credit card company, but a site to capture your user ID and password,” says Wright. Another common one to watch for is someone posing as a creditor offering you an interest rate reduction.
Whenever there is any type of information request that appears to come from a creditor – whether it’s via email or phone – it’s always safer to contact the issuer directly using the phone number on the back of your card. That way, you know you’re dealing with the actual company.
4. Before a Trip
“Even if traveling domestically, if you live in Boston and are using your card in California, your bank might flag that transaction,” says Ross. Credit issuers put such safeguards in place to protect your account when it recognizes unusual activity, but it can be a hassle to have to call to confirm your whereabouts during your travels. And, if you’re abroad, it may cost you to make that call.
Instead, be proactive and contact your credit card issuer before your trip to inform them about your itinerary so they can put a note in the system not to block charges.
Depending on the type of account you have, another reason to call before you pack your bags is to cash in on perks, says Hopper. “A lot of issuers have travel concierge type services. Before your vacation is fully planned out, call and ask if there are any hotel discounts, entertainment access or other travel offers,” he says, since that’s a benefit that a lot of cards offer today.
5. If There is Suspicious Activity
Perhaps the most important reason to contact your credit issuer is if you see charging activity on your account that you don’t recognize. While it might not always turn out to be fraudulent, calling the number on the back of your card is the fastest way to get some peace or mind or take action if necessary, says Hopper.
“Sometimes transaction authorizations will come through and it will list a payment or service you don’t recognize,” he says. The name of the actual vendor or merchant might take a day or two to show up on your account, or the company may do its billing under a different business name. By calling, customer service will be able to provide more details, including the time and place the transaction was made. “They will know more about the authorization stream than what you might see online and that can help shed some light on what might be an unrecognized activity,” he says.
If you still don’t recognize the charge at that point, you can immediately dispute the charge, put a hold on your account and ask to launch an investigation.
Mind Your Mobile Manners
Whether you’re calling for general information or assistance, these phone pointers will serve you well:
- Courtesy counts. Being polite and friendly is going to get you where you want to be a lot faster, says Hopper. Being confrontational or using bad language will not benefit you.
- Prep for the call. Before dialing, be sure you have the information you might need in front of you, such as your card number or your account history. That will help you get a quicker resolution.
- Be assertive. “Depending on your situation, it might be best to escalate the call to someone with more decision-making authority,” says Ross. Just politely explain that you feel you’re not getting the answers you need and would like to talk to supervisor, she says.
Having access to customer service is a cardholder benefit, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of it.