I think everyone has made at least one online shopping mistake. You scoured the internet to find the absolute best deal on something you wanted to buy for months. You saved up enough money and clicked to make the purchase.

A few days later, the item arrived and it didn’t remotely resemble what you thought you were buying. Sadly, this exact situation happened to my wife when we were planning our wedding, and it was only our credit card protections that saved the day.

The Laughable Wedding Dress

Okay, we all know most guys don’t do much wedding planning, but my then-fiancée and I worked together on a tight budget. Our goal was to spend less than $5,000 on everything involved (except the honeymoon), including her wedding dress.

Due to our budget restrictions, the bride-to-be decided to shop for the perfect dress online.

After a few weeks of searching, she finally settled on a dress and placed her order. She sent in measurements so they could custom-fit the dress. We thought everything would turn out great.

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We did set some money aside just in case alterations were needed, but we felt confident that we had successfully saved a good deal of money by buying her wedding dress online. If only we’d known how wrong we would be.

A couple of weeks later, the dress arrived… from China. My wife tried on the dress, being very careful I didn’t see it. She attempted to put on a happy face, but I could tell there was something wrong.

About a week later, she finally told me the dress was a nightmare. She showed me the pictures of the dress that were advertised online and the actual dress she received. It was clear the two were nothing alike.

We Tried to Return the Dress

I looked into the website where my wife had ordered the dress, but despite our best efforts, we couldn’t get anyone at the company to address our problem.

Someone did reply to our email, but it was clear that no one understood the issue, partially because the reply was in very broken English. We continued to try to work out the problem, but the vendor stopped responding.

At this point, we figured the money we spent was a lost cause. Luckily, a savvy friend inquired whether we had made the purchase on a credit card. We had.

The friend suggested that we call the credit card company and see if they could do anything to make the situation right. We figured it was a long shot, but we made the call anyway.

Credit Card Protections Saved the Day

The credit card company listened to our story, and decided that we should file a fraud claim against the vendor.

The lender said that since we had already tried to work it out with the vendor — something you should always do first — it would send us paperwork to fill out and then immediately credited our account.

The credit card company asked only that we send our receipt, photos of the actual dress, images of the dress from the website, and a signed fraud claim form, which had to be notarized.

We sent in the requested information and never heard from either the credit card company or the dress company again.

We were incredibly happy to get the money back, so that we could use it to buy a new dress on our already tight wedding budget.

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Know Your Credit Card Benefits

After this experience, I took a closer look at the benefits offered by our credit cards. I found out that most credit cards offer a wide range of benefits that seem virtually unknown to most people. 

Every credit card has different benefits and different terms for those benefits, but you can call the number on the back of your card and ask the lender to send you information.

“Zero liability and 24/7 fraud monitoring are offered with all cards and help protect consumers against losses if fraud occurs,” said David B. Shipper, a senior analyst at Aite Group. “Other benefits, such as purchase protection and extended warranty, are optional, so they do not come with every credit card, but they add a lot of value if you know how to use them.”

The key to taking advantage of these benefits “is to save receipts, warranty documents, and other items when you make a large purchase because they may be required if your purchase is lost, damaged, or stops working outside the manufacturer’s warranty period,” Shipper adds.

Other common credit card benefits include price protection (in case the price drops after you made a purchase), automatically extending a manufacturer’s warranty, roadside assistance, rental car insurance, damage protection, and theft protection. 

Of course, it isn’t all smooth sailing. “Problems can occur when consumers have closed the card that made the purchase,” Shipper says. “But for the most part, the process to use these protections is pretty straightforward, and they provide a real benefit to the cardholder.”

Know the Risks of Credit Cards

Though credit cards may be able to protect you from incidents like my wife and I experienced, there are also some risks associated with credit card use. 

“Unless there is an introductory zero percent APR offer, credit cards are going to charge interest on all balances that are carried from month to month,” says Nathan Grant, a senior credit analyst with Credit Card Insider.

“Interest rates are often 15 percent to 25 percent, so holding credit card debt is expensive,” Grant adds. “Carrying a credit card balance can make it much harder to get out of debt, and could negate any rewards you may earn from using a credit card.”

There is also a risk of late payment fees. “Even a single late payment that is reported to the credit bureaus can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years,” Grant says.

“This could affect other areas of your life where good credit scores can save you money, help secure auto or home loans, and more,” says Grant. “Make at least the minimum payment each month to avoid late payments, and set up automatic payments to help avoid missing a due date.”

The Bottom Line

Credit cards have their risks, but they also have their benefits. Try to take advantage of credit card protections, especially when you know you’ve been wronged somehow. 

Don’t just accept a mistake and move on. Look to your credit company for help resolving the problem.

It could save you hundreds of dollars, just like it saved us.

Additional reporting by Lukas Shayo

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