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Credit Card Rental Insurance: What Is It and How Does It Work?

By Jennifer Calonia · June 13, 2022 · 6 minute read

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Credit Card Rental Insurance: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Whether you’re renting a car to use while on vacation or because your usual vehicle is temporarily out of commission, you might have been asked if you’d like to purchase additional car rental protection. If you paid for your car rental reservation using a credit card, your card may already offer some form of rental protection. However, not all credit cards offer this benefit, and those that do provide varying car rental insurance benefits.

Learning the requirements and limits of your credit card’s car rental insurance coverage — if any at all — can help you make an informed decision when booking or picking up your car rental.

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What Is Credit Card Rental Car Insurance?

Rental car insurance through a credit card is also called an “Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver.” It generally states that if a rental car that was purchased using the card sustains damage due to an automobile collision or theft, you can file a reimbursement claim through your credit card issuer.

This might include a range of damage, from a smashed window due to theft to a car accident involving another vehicle. An Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver typically covers damage-related costs of the vehicle itself, but it doesn’t cover stolen personal items resulting from the theft, like a laptop, or costs related to bodily injury. Knowing these ins and outs can be especially helpful given the recent rental car rebound.

Understanding Your Credit Card’s Coverage for Rentals

Not all credit card car rental insurance terms offer the same level of coverage. For example, some credit card rental car insurance only kicks-in after your personal auto insurance coverage and with reimbursement limitations.

Credit card car insurance generally falls into one of two categories: primary or secondary coverage.

Related: How Much Auto Insurance You Need.

Primary Coverage

Certain issuers offer credit card rental car insurance as primary coverage. Primary coverage means that, in the event of damage or theft, you can file a claim directly through the card issuer for reimbursement. You’re not required to file a claim through other insurance sources, like your personal auto insurance company, before the primary credit card car rental insurance benefit applies.

Secondary Coverage

Unlike primary coverage, secondary coverage rental car insurance protection through a credit card offers supplemental reimbursement. With secondary coverage, you’ll first need to file a claim through your personal insurance coverage policy or other sources, such as supplemental insurance through the rental company.

Let’s say you’ve reached your maximum reimbursement through other insurance sources, but you have a remaining reimbursable amount. In this scenario, your credit card rental car insurance benefit can then be used to claim the remaining amount.

How Does Credit Card Rental Insurance Work?

If you’ve rented a car using a credit card that offers rental insurance benefits, you’ll need to follow certain steps to claim a reimbursement. Requirements might vary slightly between card issuers, but below are the general steps you can expect to follow:

1.    Use a credit card with rental insurance protection. The first question you’ll need to answer is, does my credit card cover rental car insurance? If it does, put the entire cost of the rental on your credit card. Keep that card on file with the rental company in case any eligible damage occurs.

2.    Opt out of the car rental company’s collision insurance coverage. If you purchase coverage through the rental company, that becomes the primary source of coverage instead of your credit card issuer.

3.    Pay for damages out-of-pocket. If an incident occurs involving the rental vehicle, your credit card will be charged. You’ll then file a reimbursement claim for the amount of any applicable repair costs through your credit card rental car insurance coverage. Some card issuers allow claim payments to go directly to the rental company, upon request.

4.    Maintain documentation. This includes police reports, if available, as well as rental receipts, damage charges from the car rental agency to your credit card, towing receipts, and any other documentation or proof of expense as a result of the incident.

5.    Submit your claim ASAP. File a Auto Rental Collision Damage reimbursement claim as soon as possible, as it can take weeks to settle a claim. If your card issuer’s benefits administrator reaches out for additional information or documents, submit those details within their designated timeline to avoid issues or possible denial of your claim.

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Questions to Ask Your Credit Card Issuer

In addition to learning what your own car insurance covers, it’s important to know your credit card’s rules around its Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver benefit. If you’re unclear about how your card can protect you while using a rental car, contact your issuer’s customer support number. Here are some important questions to ask:

•   Does the rental car insurance benefit offer primary or secondary coverage? The answer to this question can help you choose the best payment option to use for your next rental car. It will also give you a sense of what to expect if you need to file a claim.

•   What is included and not included in the coverage? In addition to reimbursements for damage, you’ll want to know if the card’s rental car insurance covers loss-of-use charges from the rental company, for example. Be clear on what isn’t eligible for reimbursement, too.

•   What are the coverage timelines? Depending on your credit card issuer, the number of days when your rental coverage is in effect might be limited.

•   Are there any countries in which the coverage is ineligible? Rental car insurance coverage might not be offered if the incident occurred in certain countries.

•   What do I need to do to ensure I’m covered? Ask what you can do on your end to ensure your rental car is covered by the credit card’s insurance benefit. This may include putting the entire purchase on the card, declining supplemental rental insurance coverage from the rental company, or other requirements stipulated by your insurer.

•   What’s the process for filing a claim? Knowing how to swiftly file a claim after an incident can offer some peace of mind during an already stressful situation.

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Guide to Choosing the Right Credit Card for Car Rental Insurance

If you have multiple credit cards in your rotation that offer differing levels of credit card car insurance protection, consider using the card that offers primary coverage. This helps you avoid the added step of going through your own auto insurance company before being able to successfully file a claim through the card issuer.

The next factor for consideration is coverage amounts. Your maximum reimbursement amount will vary between insurance coverages, so be mindful about how high or low this limit is. Also, pay attention to the exclusions for coverage, including ineligible countries, activities (e.g. off-roading in the rental vehicle), and restrictions on vehicle type.

Other Ways Your Card Can Protect You When You Travel

When a credit card is used responsibly, it can offer many travel-related benefits. In addition to rental car insurance coverage, some credit cards provide protection for lost luggage expenses and trip interruptions. Credit card travel insurance is especially useful if your travel plans are canceled due to reasons like severe weather or illness.

Keep in mind that many premium travel credit cards will have higher credit score requirements, which is another reason why good credit is important if you’re interested in accessing these benefits.

Recommended: Does Applying For a Credit Card Hurt Your Credit Score

The Takeaway

If your credit card covers rental car insurance, in many cases, you can decline the duplicative car rental company’s offer for collision coverage. However, it’s worth learning whether your credit card car rental insurance coverage is primary or secondary and what its coverage limits are in case you need to file a claim

If you’re comfortable using a credit card strategically when renting a car, compare the rental car insurance credit card benefits offered by different credit cards. Depending on your credit card, you might even be able to earn cash back rewards on your next car rental.

For example, the SoFi credit card offers cardholders 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1 Plus, the SoFi credit card offers cell phone protection, and the incentive to lower your APR by 1% when you make on-time payments of at least the minimum amount that’s due for 12 months.

FAQ

Do you need a credit card to rent a car?

No, you generally do not need a credit card to rent a car through many national car rental companies, like Enterprise, Hertz, and Avis. Major car rental companies often accept a debit card to secure your rental. Depending on the rental company, your debit card may need to have the logo of a credit network, such as Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express.

Do all credit cards have car rental insurance?

No, not all credit cards provide car rental insurance benefits. However, many credit cards offer this protection to some extent, whether as a primary or secondary coverage. If you’re interested in accessing this benefit, make sure to familiarize yourself with what credit cards cover rental car insurance.

How do I know if my card comes with primary or secondary insurance?

You can refer to your credit card’s terms and conditions to learn whether your credit card offers car rental insurance protection, and if it does, whether it’s primary or secondary coverage. You can also contact the customer support phone number listed on the back of your credit card to speak to a representative about your specific card’s car rental insurance benefits.


Photo credit: iStock/g-stockstudio

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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