Credit Cards (No. 247)
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We use them all the time — to make purchases, shop online, and collect points. Credit cards are practical and convenient. Knowing your rights relating to credit cards can limit problems.
Understand your legal rights
Your rights are set out in a “cardholder agreement”
With a credit card, you get to buy things now in exchange for a promise to pay later. The credit card issuer (such as Visa or Mastercard) allows you to spend up to a certain amount. This is called the credit limit.
If you don’t pay within a certain period of time, the card issuer will charge you interest.
The card issuer sets the credit limit, rate of interest, and other terms of the credit card in a contract, called the “cardholder agreement”.
You must accept the terms of the cardholder agreement before using the card.
If there’s a change to your agreement
Under Canadian law, the card issuer can’t raise the credit limit on your credit card without your permission — you have to authorize the increase. It’s not enough that you tell a representative you want a higher credit limit. They need to confirm your consent in writing.
For other changes to your cardholder agreement, the card issuer must inform you of the changes.
For a select few changes, they can inform you in your next monthly statement. For example, if the card issuer is decreasing the interest rate or any other charge.
For all other changes to your cardholder agreement, the card issuer must tell you about the change at least 30 days before the change takes effect.
If you lose your credit card or it’s stolen
Under the law in BC, your liability for a lost or stolen credit card is limited. Once you report a missing card to your credit card issuer, you don’t have to pay for anything bought with your card after you told them.
If someone uses your card before you report it as missing, the law limits your liability to $50 — even if your agreement with the credit card issuer says differently. There is one exception to this rule — where your credit card is used at an automated teller machine (ATM) with your personal identification number (PIN). (Although it may seem convenient, giving away or sharing your PIN is never a good idea.)
You can report the missing card to your issuer by phone or in writing.
If you receive a credit card you didn’t ask for
Under the law in BC, if you get a credit card you didn’t ask for, you don’t have to accept it. If you don’t accept it, you aren’t responsible for it. However, if you use an unsolicited credit card, you are telling the sender you’re accepting it, and you’re then responsible for what you buy with it.
What if I let someone use my credit card, and they misuse it?
As explained earlier, your liability for a lost or stolen credit card is limited — except where your credit card is used at an automated teller machine (ATM) with your personal identification number (PIN). So let’s say you give your credit card and PIN to a friend to buy something at the store. Later, without your authorization, that person uses your credit card and PIN to get cash advances from an ATM. You’re responsible for this debt.
Are bank and debit cards treated the same as credit cards?
Bank and debit cards aren’t covered by the BC law that limits credit card liability. So you’re not protected by the $50 limit on liability if someone steals your bank or debit card and PIN and uses them to get money from your account.
If you think you’ve been scammed
If you think someone may have stolen your credit card information through a scam, contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- Toll-free: 1-888-495-8501
- Web: antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca
If you’re struggling with debt
The Credit Counselling Society is a non-profit society that helps people better manage their money and debt.
- Toll-free: 1-888-527-8999
- Web: nomoredebts.org
[updated October 2017]
The above was last reviewed for legal accuracy by Wendy Andersen, Digby Leigh & Company.
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