What if I Lose My Credit Card?

by : Peter Kenny

Report the loss immediately. Those four words are probably the most important words you can remember should you lose your credit card. Let's look at this a bit more closely.

There is no debate that in the US more people are carrying credit cards and debit cards than ever before. The simple fact is that with millions and millions of credit cards being carried around on a daily basis some are bound to be lost. It should be noted that in this article the word lost can also be synonymous with stolen.

Two pieces of literature that you should be aware of are the FCBA, which is the Fair Credit Billing Act, and the EFTA, which is the Electronic Funds Transfer Act. These two documents along with the credit card company policy will give you a lot of solid information to use should you lose your credit card.

Here are some of the more important procedures that you should take as soon as you realize your card is gone.

In order to limit your loss should the card be used by someone, you must report the loss (credit card or debit card) to the card issuer as soon as possible. The vast majority of companies have a toll-free number for you to use for this purpose. This number should be on your billing statements. Call this number as soon as you can. There is a reason for this urgency which we will explore in a moment.

After you have made the initial call, you should also write the company a letter. Write the pertinent information about your account as well as the date that you noticed the card was missing. If you reported the card missing to the police, mention that also.

Under the FCBA, your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. However, if you report the loss before your credit card is actually used, the credit card company will not hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges. Keep in mind that if your loss involves only the number of your card and not the card itself, will not be held liable for unauthorized use as long as you report the use as quickly as possible.

There is a difference if the loss involves a debit card. These rules fall under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act or EFTA. Under federal law your liability for unauthorized use of your debit card or ATM card depends on how soon you notify the company of the loss.

The EFTA states that you cannot be held responsible for its use if you report an ATM or debit card missing before it is used. This is why it is imperative that you report the loss immediately. On the other hand, it is just as important to understand that if the debit or ATM card is used before you report it lost, your liability under federal law will often depend on when you notify the card issuer.

For example, when you notify the bank or card issuer within two business days of the loss, you are liable for only up to $50 if the card is used. However, if you do not report the loss within two business days, you could be responsible for up to $500.

If you do not report the loss within 60 days, you can be held responsible for unlimited loss. The thinking is you should have noticed the unauthorized charges on your billing statements by that time. When this happens you risk losing the funds that you have in your bank account as well as any unused portion of your credit line that has been established for overdrafts.

For any unauthorized transfers involving only your debit card number-not the loss of the actual card-you are liable only for transfers that occur after 60 days following the mailing of your bank statement containing the unauthorized use and before you report the loss.

In other words, when unauthorized transfers appear on your bank statement you should immediately notify the company. Once you have reported the loss, you cannot be held liable for additional unauthorized transfers that occur after that time.

It is a good idea to make it a habit to physically check your credit cards and debit cards to make sure you still have them. Do this once a week and you avoid many problems if you happen to lose your credit card.