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Not using card benefits is leaving money on the table

Kelly Dilworth

Racking up card rewards isn’t the only way to squeeze more value from your plastic. Most credit cards also offer a laundry list of money-saving perks, but you have to actually use them.

Though I am a personal finance writer, I’ll confess I’ve had a hard time keeping track of my card benefits, such as price protection, travel insurance and extended warranty. As a result, I’ve forfeited more “free money” than I care to admit.

See, despite writing often about the money-saving power of a benefits-packed credit card, I’ve never used price protection to score a partial refund on a purchase that dropped in price, nor have I spent much time pondering the purchase protections and insurance benefits that are included with my cards.

It’s rare these days to find a card that doesn’t offer a suite of incidental perks, including car rental insurance and purchase protection. For example, CreditCards.com’s 2016 Purchase Protection Survey of 100 cards found that 81 percent of cards offered extended warranty, 57 percent offered purchase security, 47 percent offered price protection and 26 percent offered return protection.

The problem? Card issuers haven’t made these benefits particularly easy to use – especially if you’re like me and are chronically disorganized or are pressed for time.

For example, to take advantage of price protection – which refunds you the difference if you find an item you already purchased at a lower price – you typically need to monitor store offerings yourself and report the price drops to your lender. Some card issuers, such as Citi, will monitor store prices via its Price Rewind benefit, but you still need to record your purchase first so the issuer will actively track it.

Similarly, card protections such as purchase security and return protection require you to file a claim within a short time period if a purchase is damaged or you can’t get a store to accept a return.

You also need to keep track of what benefits are included on which card (this can seem overwhelming if you own several cards) and who to contact when you want to file a claim.

“It’s kind of a broken experience,” says Abhinav Dubey, a San Francisco Bay Area entrepreneur who co-founded an app called Sift Wallet to help make it easier to use card benefits. When you have an issue with a purchase, it’s not always clear how to use your credit card to get your money back, he says. “It’s hard to know who to go to or how to get help.”

Dubey says many people don’t realize how much value they could get from their card benefits if they only took advantage of them.

“If you look at credit card benefits like an iceberg, at the tip you have cash back and rewards. Everybody knows about those things,” says Dubey. But underneath the surface are a host of perks that, in some cases, can be just as beneficial as card rewards.

“The problem is nobody is aware of these benefits,” he says, “and, even if they’re aware of them, it’s a hassle to take advantage of them.”

To help make it easier for consumers, Sift manages your card perks and helps educate and remind you about the benefits that are available.

The app is similar to competitors such as Earny and Paribus, which help you monitor price drops and file claims with credit card companies or stores that offer partial refunds. But it goes a step further by also tracking when and if you’re eligible to take advantage of other card protections, such as purchase security, return protection or travel insurance.

I recently tried out Sift after it was featured in “New apps we love” in Apple’s app store and was impressed with how much I learned about my card benefits.

How it works: Sift monitors your card benefits by asking you to select which credit cards you currently use. The app doesn’t link to your transaction history, so it may not capture every purchase that qualifies for a benefit. Instead, it learns about your purchases by accessing your email and/or Amazon account and scanning the receipts that show up in your inbox.

Pluses and minuses: I liked how it scans, or sifts (hence the name), through my purchases to find items that dropped in price since I last bought them and alerts me to purchases that were eligible for other card benefits.

I didn’t like that Sift asks you for full access to your email account, so I created a new email account and had my receipts sent there. But If you authorize Sift to use the email that receives your receipts or that’s connected to your Amazon account, it will automatically file a claim on your behalf so you can collect your refund without lifting a finger.

Sift also makes it easy to see how long you have left to take advantage of a card benefit and provides detailed information about what specific benefits each of your cards offers. The app also links to the numbers you can call if you need to take advantage of an emergency card benefit, such as roadside assistance.

Bottom line: For me, Sift’s organizational benefits alone were worth the free download. By keeping tabs on my card perks, which purchases qualify for protection and how long I have to file a claim, I’m hoping I’ll finally start taking full advantage of what my credit card benefits offer. As of mid-July, Sift is available only to iOS users, but is working on a version of the app for Android devices.

See related: New tools track price drops for a cut of your refund, 5 apps to turbocharge your back-to-school savings, Favorite travel apps from 4 travel bloggers, 5 apps that pay you to get active

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