Is credit card protection worth the cost?
In the World's Foremost Bank fine print that Young received, payment protection for a job loss resulting from temporary disability meant "you must be physically unable to perform any work or service for wages, gain or profit." A doctor's note is required for card payment suspensions. Miss a month of sending in the proper documentation for any claim, and your protection disappears.
Many of these plans offer to cancel credit card balances of up to $25,000 if the cardholder dies. But the cost far outweighs the death benefit, says Geri Detweiler, credit adviser for Credit.com.
"Many people think they'll inherit the credit card debts when a spouse or parent dies, but that's not the case. Unless there's an estate involved or a co-signer on the card, the credit card company can't go after the debt. It has to forgive it and take it off the books," Detweiler says.
Want to claim your benefit? Think again
If you do meet requirements and then file a claim, your chances of benefiting from the plan are less than 100 percent.
Smith is also a blogger at WalletPop.com, a personal-finance-focused Web site, and when he wrote about his experience with the payment protection plan, he got a raft of comments.
"A few people wrote that when they tried to file a claim, either for job loss or hospitalization, they were denied or their plan was canceled. I haven't met anyone who says the plan helped them when they needed it," Smith says.
Detweiler also says she gets many complaints. "They've paid on these programs for years and then when they need it, they get the runaround and can't collect. With an insurance plan, at least the state insurance regulator steps in to help you, but there's no such protection for payment protection plans," she says.
And because many credit card companies are raising their interest rates and fees, they're looking for any credit-related flaw in your record to justify the moves, says Detweiler. "I'd be hesitant to let a card company know I lost my job," she says.
Is this plan good for anyone?
Young still says yes, but only for those who pay off their balance monthly and on time, and know when to get out.
"It could be worth signing up for if you believe your job will disappear in 30 to 90 days. If you carry a $4,000 balance, a $40 monthly plan payment is likely less than your minimum payment on that balance. But don't forget to cancel it if you survive company layoffs," Young says.
For those who don't want to do such advance planning or pay fees, Citibank, one of the few banks that don't tout a payment protection plan, recommends another method. "We encourage those who are facing or anticipating financial distress to contact us directly," says Citibank spokeswoman Jeanette Volpe.
That's what most financial experts advise anyway. Call your card issuer directly and ask them to lower your interest rate. McHenry says card companies are more willing to negotiate these days.
"If they believe someone will default completely on his balance, he is more likely to work out a payment plan, stretch payments over time or take a bigger lump sum to forgive some debt," McHenry says.
Detweiler says it's even worth calling if you think you'll need help with just one or two card payments. "You can get them reduced or waived just by asking, especially if you have a good credit report," she says.