Consider these five terrifying words: "I can't find my credit card!"
Panic sets in. Now you have to immediately contact your credit card issuer, cancel your cards, and go through the headache of resetting all of your accounts and automatic payments – or do you?
Some credit card issuers offer a convenient locking feature that allows you to freeze your account from new purchases and cash advances temporarily while allowing recurring transactions such as automatic bill payments to continue. This prevents fraudulent purchases while you figure out where you left your card.
The feature is easy to access and activate through the card issuer's mobile app and websites, putting you in control of your credit card security. In essence, you can think of it as an on/off switch or a remote control that allows you to lock and unlock your credit card account as easy as flipping a light switch or changing channels.
Many debit card issuers already offer this feature (Bank of America and Wells Fargo, among others). The customer-driven convenience lock has been focused on debit cards in the past, since debit cards are used in more transactions than credit cards within the U.S. – and, historically, debit cards have had lesser protections compared to credit cards.
However, credit cards are catching up to debit cards in total transactions. According to a 2016 study from payment processor Total System Services (TSYS), credit cards were listed as the preferred method of payment by consumers. As a result, credit card issuers are more likely to integrate temporary locking features into their card lines. Citi and Discover are among the leaders in bringing this feature to credit cards through their "Quick Lock" and "Freeze it®" programs, respectively.
Both programs block cash advances, new purchases (both in-store and online), and phone purchases. Both programs allow recurring payments. The significant difference between the two is balance transfers – they are allowed by Citi's Quick Lock but blocked by Discover's Freeze it.
Rewards redemption programs, returns and credits, account fees, and other auxiliary transactions are likely to continue as well. Each credit card company will have their own list of what is and is not halted by the temporary lock. Check with your card issuer for details.
Should you apply a temporary lock instead of a full credit freeze? That's a judgment call, depending on what you think may have happened to your card. How long can you afford to run all of your non-recurring transactions through other credit cards, debit cards, or cash? Theoretically, you can give yourself the ultimate protection by leaving the card in the temporary lock state and only activating it when you plan to make a purchase – assuming you have sufficient access to the card issuer's app or website just before purchase.
In case of identity theft, you can use the temporary lock as a complement to a full credit account freeze. You can leave your existing account open and unlock it only when necessary, keeping thieves from making online purchases with your existing account information. Meanwhile, the credit freeze stops identity thieves from opening new accounts. If you would like to prevent identity theft, check out our credit monitoring service.
Check with your credit card issuer for details on any temporary credit locks that are available, or if the issuer has plans to include this feature in their card lines. If your card does not have a temporary lock and you are prone to misplacing your card, you may want to switch to a card with that feature. But to activate your credit card lock, try not to lose your phone!
If you want more credit, check out MoneyTips' list of credit card offers.