What Is Credit Card Return Protection?

Definition and Examples of Return Protection

A shopper looks over paperwork after being denied a return.
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 ozgurcankaya / Getty Images

You’ve purchased something and then changed your mind—the shirt’s color isn’t so flattering at home. But you’re surprised when you realize you’ve missed the shop’s 30-day window for returns. In a situation like this, a credit card return protection benefit may be the answer.

Credit card return protection is an insurance-style protection provided by certain credit cards that allows you to get a refund if the retailer you made your purchase from doesn’t allow a return. 

However, return protection isn’t as common as other card benefits, and you’ll need to carefully review restrictions on what’s reimbursable. Find out more about what credit card protection is (and what it isn’t), how credit card protection works, exclusions, and cards that could help you get a refund for a brand-new toy, blender, or shirt that you’ll never use.

Credit card return protection is an optional benefit offered by only some cards. If you wish to dispute card charges for items you didn’t accept or that weren't delivered as agreed, that falls under the Fair Billing Credit Act and involves a different process.  

What Is Credit Card Return Protection?

Typically, credit card return protection provides a 60- or 90-day return policy for items fully purchased with the credit card within the United States. Some credit card rewards programs may also protect purchases made with rewards points.

Usually, the item is eligible if it’s your own personal property and is in like-new condition (but unsatisfactory to you in some manner) and the merchant or retailer won’t allow a return, exchange, or credit. 

Most programs have a maximum amount refundable per item—typically between $250 and $500— and per year, such as $1,000. You don’t need to register or notify the card company or merchant when you make your purchase—it’s an automatic benefit if offered by your card. 

  • Alternate name: Satisfaction guarantee 

How Does Credit Card Return Protection Work?

First, examine the retailer’s return policy; you can usually find it on the receipt or store’s website. Remember that stores may have different policies for sale or clearance items. This step is important because you might need to list on your claim form why the store won’t accept a return.

If the store denies your return because the return deadline passed or for another reason, you’ll either contact your credit card issuer or an insurance company that works with your issuer to process claims. You can find out who you need to call by reading your card’s guide to benefits or calling your card’s customer service line.

Most return protection benefits cover items purchased within the past 60 to 90 days.

Your issuer or insurance company will give you a claim form after you contact them. You usually have 30 days from the day you started the claim to return the claim form. Submit the form to the email or postal address provided, along with any required documentation, such as an itemized receipt or credit card statement. 

After the issuer or insurer approves your claim, you’ll follow instructions for sending the merchandise. Unfortunately, you may be on the hook for mailing or shipping costs. If everything goes as it should, the issuer or insurer will reimburse you for your purchase. 

Card companies require the item to be in new or good working order to issue a refund, and you may also need to send in the original packaging, warranty information, and owner’s manuals. 

Common Exclusions

If you think you might use credit card return protection, first ensure an item is covered before swiping or tapping your card. Where credit card return protection is concerned, exceptions are numerous. Most exclusions make sense—although some are surprising. Exclusions typically include:

  • Living animals and plants
  • Damaged, defective, and altered items
  • Autos, boats, and other vehicles
  • Formal clothing, such as gowns and tuxedos
  • Items purchased outside the United States 
  • Jewelry, art, antiques, or used items
  • Seasonal items, such as Christmas decor
  • Home items intended to be permanently installed, such as ceiling fans
  • Stamps, coins, tickets, and other metals

Some policies won’t let you return consumable, limited-life, perishable goods (such as food or batteries), or items purchased at auctions.  

Also, you may not be able to use this benefit if you’re an additional cardholder rather than the original cardholder. 

With some policies, excluded items include those purchased for resale, professional, or commercial use—something to note if you’re using your card for a business purchase. 

Cards Offering Return Protection

A few networks and issuers offer this benefit far more frequently. For example, American Express has 19 cards with return protection, including business cards. While this may sound like quite a few, American Express offers 63 cards with purchase protection, which covers stolen or damaged items. 

Return protection may also be included with Visa Infinite and Visa Signature cards. However, these cards tend to come with higher annual fees. 

Mastercard appears to offer its “satisfaction guarantee” primarily for debit card holders through various banks. This guarantee is similar to what others call return protection, for up to $250, within 60 days of purchase. 

Here are a few standout credit card options: 

Card Return Protection Per-Item Limit Total Limit Per Year Annual Fee Good Choice for People Who Want…
Chase Sapphire Reserve $500 $1,000 $550 High per-item limit included in a premium travel card
Wells Fargo Propel American Express $300 $1,000 $0 Return protection in a no-annual-fee travel- and dining-centric cash-back card
Blue Cash Preferred Card $300 $1,000 $0 the first year, $95 thereafter Return protection with a cash-back card

Key Takeaways

  • Return protection could be a nice perk that could help you get reimbursed if a store won’t accept a return.
  • However, getting reimbursed by your card company may take several steps, including documenting your purchase and shipping the item, so be sure to retain all packaging, receipts, and documentation that come with your item.
  • Exclusions limit what can be reimbursed and the dollar amount of your claim.