Getting a Credit Card

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Anna Fung, KC, BC Utilities Commission in October 2019.

We use them all the time — to make purchases, shop online and collect points. But before you get a credit card, learn your rights and how to protect yourself.

Understand your legal rights

What you should know

Your rights are set out in a cardholder agreement

The deal with a credit card is this: you get to buy things now in exchange for a promise to pay later. Basically, the card issuer is giving you a loan. If you fail to pay the money back by a certain date, you’re charged interest on top of it. The longer you take to pay back what you borrowed, the more it costs you.

The credit card issuer (Visa or Mastercard, for example) allows you to spend up to a certain amount. That’s called your “credit limit.”

The important terms of your credit card come in a contract called the cardholder agreement. You must accept the terms of the cardholder agreement before using the card.

When you buy something with a new credit card, you’re saying you accept the terms of the cardholder agreement. It’s no excuse to say you didn’t read the agreement. Or didn’t understand it.

You must be given certain information

The card issuer must tell you certain things in the credit card application form. This includes:

  • the interest rate
  • the grace period (the time before interest charges kick in)
  • any non-interest charges

With your credit card, you also receive a copy of the cardholder agreement. (The issuer is bound by law to include it.)

The agreement must set out the card’s terms and conditions, including:

  • the minimum periodic payment
  • the credit limit
  • how interest is calculated
  • your maximum liability if the card is lost or stolen

You’ll receive a monthly statement

The card issuer must send you a statement every month. You can choose to get it by mail or email.

The monthly statement must contain important information, including:

  • the period covered by the statement
  • the balance at the beginning of the period
  • a description of each charge and transaction during the period
  • the balance owing at the end of the period
  • the due date for payment
  • the amount you have to pay before the grace period ends to avoid interest

Protect yourself!

Step 1. Keep a record of your account numbers

Find a safe place for your credit card account numbers. Write down the expiration dates on the cards. Keep the toll-free customer service number handy in case you lose your cards.

Step 2. Don't lend your card to anyone

Under the law in BC, your liability for a lost or stolen card is limited. That usually means you’re protected. But if you give your card and PIN to someone, you lose this protection.

Step 3. Shred credit cards you're finished with

Shredding your bank statements when you’ve read them is also a good idea.

Step 4. Be careful about giving out your credit card number

Don’t give out the number over the phone or online until you’re certain you’re dealing with a reputable company. If the company’s new to you, search for complaints against it online before you buy anything.

Step 5. Check your bills often

Review your credit card bills as soon as you get them. If you use online banking, check your account frequently.

Step 6. Report questionable charges

If there are any charges on your statement you think might be fraudulent, contact your card issuer right away. They can put a fraud alert on your card and prevent any more charges.

Go deeper

Want to dive deeper into your rights and how to prevent problems with a credit card? Check out our in-depth information on this topic.

Helpful agencies

If you run into trouble, these agencies may be able to help.

Financial Consumer Agency of Canada
Deals with complaints against federally-regulated banks and trust companies.
Call 1-888-461-3222
Visit website
Consumer Protection BC
If you don’t think a credit card issuer disclosed the required information.
Call 1-888-564-9963
Visit website

Legal advice

A legal professional can help you explore options and decide on your next step.

Lawyer Referral Service
Helps you connect with a lawyer for a complimentary 15-minute consult to see if you want to hire them.
Call 1-800-663-1919
Visit website
Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
Volunteer lawyers provide 30 minutes of free legal advice to people with low or modest income.
Call 1-877-762-6664
Visit website
People’s Law School
See more options for free or low-cost legal help.
Visit website
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