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What Happens to Credit Card Rewards When You Die?

By Jennifer Calonia · September 01, 2022 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

What Happens to Credit Card Rewards When You Die?

Although you might not think twice about amassing miles and points, it’s wise to learn what happens to credit card rewards when you die. After all, you don’t want the work that went into earning rewards — and the value of those credit card rewards — to be all for naught.

While some credit card rewards die with you, some issuers do allow redemptions or transfers after death. Here’s a closer look at what happens to credit card rewards when you die, as well as what steps you can take to avoid forfeiting your rewards.

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What Are Credit Card Rewards?

Credit card rewards are a type of currency that can come in the form of credit card points, miles, or cash back rewards. They’re designed to incentivize cardholders to make eligible purchases on their rewards credit card.

As you make purchases and earn various credit card rewards, you can choose to hold onto the rewards in your account until you have enough to redeem toward a high-value purpose. Each rewards program lets cardholders redeem rewards in different ways, depending on its rules. Common redemption options include statement credits, travel bookings and reservations, special experiences, merchandise, gift cards, and more.

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What Happens to Your Credit Card Rewards Upon Death?

Having a stockpile of credit card rewards after death might lead to a sticky situation for your surviving family. Akin to your credit card debt after death not passing on to your survivors in some states, some credit card rewards “die with you” and can’t be redeemed or transferred to your family or estate.

Conversely, some credit card issuers, like American Express and Bank of America, offer a limited period during which authorized trustees of your estate can redeem unused rewards. Certain programs that permit reward redemptions or transfers after death might require the outstanding account balance to be paid in full.

In other words, what happens to your credit card rewards after you pass on essentially depends on the terms laid out in your rewards program agreement. Some rewards terms specifically state that rewards aren’t the property of the cardholder and can’t be transferred through inheritance.

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What To Do With Credit Card Rewards if the Account Holder Dies

If you know that your deceased loved one amassed points, credit card miles, or cash back rewards, there are a few steps you can take to address it:

1.    Check on accounts and rewards balances. If your deceased loved one gave you access to their account before their death, log in to get an overview of their remaining rewards balances across all accounts. If you don’t have access to their accounts, proceed to the next step.

2.    Prepare paperwork. You’ll likely need to provide proof of the primary cardholder’s death, such as a copy of their death certificate. Additionally, you might need to provide the name and contact information of the authorized trustee, letter of testamentary, or other details.

3.    Contact the card issuer. You must inform the card issuer in the event of a primary cardholder’s death. Supply the necessary documentation you’ve gathered, and inquire about your options to redeem the rewards.

Generally, credit card companies offer at least one of a few options, though how a credit card works will vary by issuer. The rewards might be forfeited if they’re non-transferable or expire upon the cardholder’s death. Some credit card terms automatically convert the rewards into a statement credit, while other issuers allow rewards redemption or transfers to another existing, active account.

Ways You Can Avoid Forfeiting Your Credit Card Rewards

You’re ultimately at the mercy of your reward program’s user agreement in terms of what to do with credit card rewards after death. However, planning ahead can help you avoid relinquishing earned rewards.

Not Hoarding Your Points

To avoid facing a scenario in which your credit card rewards die with you, make an effort to redeem credit card points or miles on a rolling basis.

For example, at the end of each year, use credit card rewards to travel for less or apply them to your account as a statement credit. Keep in mind that different redemption options have varying valuations, so look into which redemption strategy makes sense for your situation.

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Choosing Cards With Favorable Death Terms

Although a particular program might offer enticing rewards — such as the chance to enjoy credit card bonuses — it might not be advantageous if the program has strict terms regarding a cardholder’s death.

American Express, for instance, has fairly lenient terms when dealing with the rewards balances of a deceased cardholder.

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Using a Reward-Tracking Tool

If you have multiple rewards credit cards in your rotation, using a reward tracking app can help you and your surviving family organize and track your rewards. Apps like AwardWallet and MaxRewards let you easily see all of your rewards in one view.

Naming a Beneficiary in Your Will

Although it’s not a foolproof way to avoid forfeiting your credit card rewards, adding a beneficiary to your will is a smart move. This way, if your card issuer allows rewards transfers or redemptions by authorized individuals, your beneficiary is formally named on your estate documents as your desired recipient.

The Takeaway

Since there’s no way to know when an accident or unforeseen health issue will result in your death, it’s best to be prepared. If possible, redeem earned credit card rewards in a timely manner so you can enjoy them in life.

If you don’t have a rewards card yet, the SoFi credit card can help you earn cash-back rewards on your purchases. Plus, after 12 consecutive months of on-time minimum payments, SoFi automatically lowers your APR by 1%. Learn more and apply for a credit card today with SoFi.

Apply for a SoFi credit card today!

FAQ

Can I transfer points from the account of a late family member?

Whether you’re allowed to transfer points from your deceased relative’s rewards credit card account depends on the card program’s rules. Some banks allow points transfers, while other programs state that points are non-transferable. Contact the card issuer’s customer support team to learn about its point transfer policy.

Can an authorized user use credit card rewards upon the death of the account owner?

It depends. Not all credit card rewards programs allow authorized users to use a primary cardholder’s earned rewards. Those that do might have restrictions on how and when rewards can be redeemed after a primary user’s death, if at all.

What happens to the miles when someone dies?

Miles earned by a deceased primary credit card rewards cardholder might be forfeited, transferred, or redeemed by the estate or surviving family, depending on the rewards program. Terms vary between card issuers, and even across travel rewards programs, so call the program’s support team to learn about its terms.

Can estates redeem points after death?

Some rewards credit cards allow estates to redeem points after the primary cardholder’s death. American Express, for example, allows estates to request points redemption by submitting a formal written request, death certificate, and other details related to the redemption.


Photo credit: iStock/supatom

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.
SoFi cardholders earn 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
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands or products mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
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