What you should do with those little slips of paper

The Importance of Credit Card Receipts

by Bill Hardekopf

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Credit card receipts are printed with every swipe of a credit card. They fill up wallets, purses, and car consoles, and are used as scratch paper and bookmarks. It is easy to become careless with these small, but important, strips of white paper.

The Numbers and Signature on Credit Card Receipts

Through the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, Congress mandated that only the last four or five digits of your card number, not your whole number, can appear on your receipt. Your receipt cannot include your expiration date. This shortened or truncated number provides greater financial security, but it doesn't offer complete protection.

Pretending to be your bank or utility company, thieves can use the few published digits of your credit card number and ask an unsuspecting consumer to fill in the rest of the numbers. Never give your credit card number if someone calls you, no matter who they say they may be. If you think the call may be legitimate, look up the number of the business and call them back.

The rest of the numbers on your receipt are codes for the processor. These numbers identify the store and sometimes give a terminal number that tells which cash register took the payment.

There will be two copies of the receipt, one for the customer and one for the merchant. The receipts are the same and it usually does not matter which one you sign. Restaurants put the tip and signature line on both copies of the receipt. Your signature is also important, no matter how illegible the scrawl. The receipt is a contract that you will pay. The signed receipt may also be important if you need to dispute a fraudulent charge.

Keep or Toss Receipts

Keep these receipts in order to compare the charges with your credit card statements, especially those that include a tip. It is possible that the cashier could make a mistake or fraudulently add a little more to your bill, a practice called tip-padding. If a credit card charge is incorrect, the receipt is your proof to help you dispute the charge. Keeping your receipt is also important when you need to make an exchange, get a refund, or use a warranty. It is a good idea to keep receipts for a year or two until the credit card warranty expires, especially on major purchases.

If you don't want to keep up with your receipts, services such as Shoeboxed.com digitizes receipts and stores them in cloud-based archives. Retailers are also moving to electronic payments and can e-mail your receipt to you.

Bill Hardekopf is CEO of LowCards.com, which simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates.

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