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Get to know your credit card – inside and out. Why? Because knowing what leverage you have with your card can help you hike your limit, get better rates and protect your purchases – and other good perks.

The problem is that most of these perks are tucked away inside the fine print – specifically, the “terms and conditions” of your credit card agreement paperwork. So job one is to find that section and review it thoroughly.

When you do, what kinds of buried treasures can you expect to find inside your card? Try these benefits, for starters:

Extended warranties. Consumer purchase protections are commonplace with most credit card carriers. Both American Express (Stock Quote: AXP) and MasterCard (Stock Quote: MA) offer product warranty protection for up to one year after your purchase date. Card companies won’t cover everything – things like antique vases or tickets to the Yankees game (that’s considered a “perishable” item) – but major purchases for big ticket items like refrigerators or lawn mowers are covered. Expect resistance on your claim if your card is not paid up and in good standing.

Guaranteed Returns. Anyone who’s waited in line at a big-box retailer to return a video game console that doesn’t work understands the frustration of having the burden of proof on their shoulders – and not the store’s. Retailers are infamous for using “fine print” language to reject returns on bogus products. And just try to get your money back on an item purchased on an online auction site. That’s where a good credit card can help. Many card carriers – Amex, Capital One (Stock Quote: COF) and MasterCard among them – have guaranteed product return policies where they’ll make up the cash if the retailer won’t.

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Card limit increases. Card issuers are generally open to limit increases – but you really have to ask, and you should try to tie the request to a large purchase, like a new computer or a new gravel driveway. Card issuers are generally amenable to approve limit hikes for specific, big-ticket purchases. Conversely, they’re likely to reject a claim for a limit hike just for the sake of a limit hike. One more thing: only ask for a credit limit increase if you’re up to date on your card payments. A history of late payments is a recipe for a rejection.

Price Protection. Equally frustrating is buying that new plasma TV at one retailer, only to see it selling for $200 less at another store. Again, a good credit card (and you’ll need to check the terms and agreements section here) should have a price protection clause that triggers a “payback” for the amount of money you overpaid. Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) and Citibank (Stock Quote: C) both have such provisions in their credit card agreement terms. By and large, any refunded money is either deducted from your credit card statement, or, could be mailed to you via check (but you should request that directly from your card carrier). When you check your card agreement, look for any price protection deadlines – 60 days is usually a good benchmark. Note, too, that card issuers will cap the amount of money you can claim as an overpayment.

Get a lower interest rate. Buried deep in your terms and agreements contract is the right for you to negotiate a lower interest rate. The surest way to get a lower rate is to get a better offer from another card provider and bring that offer to the attention of your current card provider. Be polite, be diplomatic, but be firm. Card companies – even in this economy – don’t want to lose your business.

The moral of the story? It’s like this: your credit card leaves you more room than you may think to get better performance, better benefits and better interest rates from your provider. The trick is in knowing what’s allowable and available, and then asking your card carrier directly to cut you a better deal.

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