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You’re likely to lose track of a credit card at some point—many people do. You’re standing at the checkout counter, you open your wallet and it’s not there. What you do depends on how prepared you are and whether you think the card was lost or stolen.

How to Prepare for a Lost Credit Card

Losing a credit card doesn’t have to be something that turns into a nightmare. You can manage the situation more effectively if you’ve taken these three steps to prepare in advance.

1. Choose Your Financial Institutions Wisely

Do you often think your bank could improve its customer service? Have you had past problems getting unauthorized charges removed from a credit card statement? If your bank or credit card company has failed you in the past, it’s more likely it will do so in the future when you need help the most.

Of course, it’s easier to just coast along with whichever company you have been using to meet financial goals. But it’s worth the time to think of worst-case scenarios and make a change to the financial institutions you use before you need emergency services.

Take a few minutes to think how you would rate the services offered by your banks and credit companies and compare policies for lost or stolen cards. Little things can make a big difference, such as a company guarantee to get you a replacement card within a specific time frame.

2. Keep Your Contact Information Up to Date

Imagine you need a replacement credit or debit card, but the agent tells you he can’t send it to your current address because the company has an old address on file. Or imagine trying to activate a card via text or email while you’re traveling, but you can’t get it to work because the company has old numbers and addresses on file.

Unsurprisingly, financial institutions are hesitant to make any changes to an account while it’s flagged for possible fraudulent activity. If you want to get a replacement card in hand as quickly as possible when you need it, make any updates to your contact information now.

3. Keep Your Credit Card Contact Information and Account Number Handy

This one is easy. Record the toll-free support number for each card’s financial institution in your phone’s contact book. Though you could probably track down the number fairly quickly with internet access, time is often of the essence when reporting a lost or stolen card, so make it easy for yourself. Having your account number ready can also save valuable time verifying your identity with the customer service rep.

What to Do When a Credit Card Goes Missing

In general, you should treat a lost credit or debit card as if it was stolen. There’s no major downside to reporting it stolen, other than having to replace the card.

Obtaining the highest level of protection against fraudulent use of your card is based on how quickly you report the incident. Federal law says you have zero liability for any charges made on your card after you report it’s gone, but you may be liable for charges made before you do so.

If You Think Your Card Is Lost

1. Retrace your steps.

You may be lucky. Your card or wallet might be waiting for you right where you left it.

2. Cancel your card, and request a replacement.

Even if you’re lucky enough to find your lost card or it’s returned to you by a good Samaritan, your financial information may be compromised. Someone may have copied all the information needed to process a transaction. It may be best to err on the safe side and get a new card.

If You Think Your Card Was Stolen

1. Report it immediately

Call the financial institution that issued the card using the 24-hour support phone number for fraud prevention and report the card as stolen. If your entire wallet was stolen with multiple cards and pieces of identification in it, call every financial institution as soon as possible.

2. Keep records

Make a record of the time and date of your call and who you spoke to. Since your liability for unauthorized transactions is tied to speedy reporting, plan to prove you were diligent just in case.

3. File a police report

Another way to demonstrate your due diligence and avoid any liability for unauthorized charges is to show you made an official report regarding the incident.

4. Notify the credit reporting agencies

It’s a good idea to put a security alert on your credit reports. Although this may be overkill for the loss of a single card, it can offer an extra layer of protection if the theft evolves into full-fledged identity theft. Victims of identity theft can sometimes have a hard time proving that negative credit reporting was the result of an impersonation. An immediate alert regarding the initial incident can go a long way when you want negative information removed.

5. Watch your account activity

Take advantage of online access to your account to monitor activity. Check your monthly statements immediately upon receipt and not months later. If you see anything strange or unauthorized, contact your financial institution. Don’t assume that because you canceled the card everything is under control. Thieves develop new ways to take advantage of access to even the smallest bit of your financial information all the time.

6. Update your auto payments

Try to remember to do this before the auto payments bounce back for nonpayment. Don’t let the theft of the card derail your good credit.

FAQs

What do I do if I lost my credit card?

To ensure maximum protection against having to pay for unauthorized charges, call the credit card company’s 24-hour support line and report the missing card right away at any time of the day or night. Try retracing your steps if you think you can find the lost card, but even if it’s returned to you by a third party, you may want to request a replacement card to be safe.

Can I track my credit card if I lost it?

New ways to track personal belongings are being developed all the time. Check with your financial institution to see if it has a way to locate a missing card by its internal chip. Some companies offer other features, such as the ability to turn the card on and off with an app if it’s temporarily misplaced.

How long does it take to get a replacement credit card?

Typically, it takes seven to 10 days to receive a replacement card. However, each company has its own policies regarding turnaround time, which can range from overnight to weeks.

Why is my credit card not working?

A credit card can stop working for any number of reasons, including damage to the card or a negative credit balance. Occasionally, a credit card company places a hold on a card if the security agents see a suspicious transaction or a transaction with details that lie outside of your normal spending habits. In these cases, you can usually reactivate your card by calling the credit company and verifying your identity and recent transactions.

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