Is Your Credit Card Mailing You Blank Checks? Beware of Them

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  • Your credit card company may send you blank checks to access your credit line -- these are called credit card convenience checks.
  • These function basically as a cash advance, though, meaning you'll be charged fees and interest will likely begin to accrue immediately.
  • It's best to avoid using these checks unless you need money in an emergency situation (as other ways to get money in a hurry, like payday loans, are often riskier).

Convenient? Sure. Should you use them? Probably not.

Opened any new credit card accounts lately? If you have, you might have received something you weren't expecting when your credit company sent you your new card: blank checks. These are called credit card convenience checks, and using them can have a detrimental impact on your finances. Here's how they work and why you may not want to borrow from your line of credit this way.

What are credit card convenience checks?

The blank checks you got from your card issuer give you the chance to access your line of credit to pay for something without having to swipe your card. If you've ever wanted to use your credit card to pay for something, but aren't able to, you could use a credit card convenience check. An example of this could be paying for a purchase from a vendor that doesn't accept credit cards.

They can also be used to take cash out from your credit card, much like a cash advance, but without using an ATM -- you'd write the check out to yourself and deposit it. And you may even be able to use these checks to pay off another credit card, in effect transferring its balance to the card that's attached to the checks. All of this sure sounds convenient, but it pays to avoid using them.

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Wait, why shouldn't I use them?

Credit card convenience checks may not require an ATM, but in terms of fees and interest, they're equivalent to a cash advance. Credit card cash advances allow you to borrow cash from your line of credit. There are a few drawbacks to doing this, however.

For one thing, you don't have access to your full credit limit; you'll often be capped at 20%-50% of it for a cash advance. If you have a credit limit of $5,000, your cash advance limit may only be $1,000. But aside from this downside, the bigger problems with a cash advance, and credit card convenience checks, are the fees and interest.

Right from the get-go, you'll be charged a fee as a percentage of the amount the check is for. If you write a check for $500 and your account has a 5% cash advance fee, that's an additional $25 you'll have to pay back. Then, the amount you've borrowed via check will start accruing interest immediately. You don't get a grace period like you would on a purchase you make using your actual credit card. To add insult to injury, your credit card company may also have a higher APR (annual percentage rate) for cash advances than for regular credit card purchases. Ouch.

Credit card convenience checks could also leave you open to fraud, incidentally. The FDIC recommends shredding them if you receive them, and if your credit company keeps sending them periodically, call and request that checks not be sent to you. (Opt out of paper communications too, while you're at it.) If scammers go through your mailbox and steal them, they'll have access to your line of credit.

What if the alternative is worse?

Okay, I will concede that there is one instance in which you may want to use a credit card convenience check. If you need to pay for something in cash or via check immediately, making use of one of those blank checks is definitely a better option than going to a payday lender. Payday loans are predatory and you don't want to get caught in the cycle of debt they perpetuate.

Definitely don't use a credit card convenience check without considering the fees and interest charges you'll incur. Ultimately, these are really best avoided, unless you truly have no alternative that isn't a worse prospect for your finances.

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