It’s finally summertime. You waited all winter for vacations and weekend getaways. If you’re like most people, you’re not thinking much about credit cards.
However, when you travel, you should probably check your balances a little more often than usual. This is according to the advice of Nessa Feddis, American Bankers Association’s senior VP of consumer protection.
Keeping tabs on your balance is easy, as most banks now have apps that allow you to check in from your mobile phone or other device.
Here are a few tips you can use to keep your credit card safe no matter how you relax.
Call card issuers before you leave
When you were a kid, your parents expected you to let them know where you were planning to be and when you were expected to be back. Now that you’ve grown up, you may not need to give your parents that information, but you should call your card companies.
Most card issuers use a variety of strategies to fight fraud. Credit Union National Association’s director of consumer periodicals Susan Tiffany recommends letting your card issuer know if you plan to be traveling outside of your normal area.
If you live in the Midwest and suddenly you’re shopping on the coast, for example, you run the risk of having your card declined or suspended.
Even if you’re only traveling to the next state over, Tiffany recommends calling your card issuers. This applies to all of your cards, both credit and debit.
While you are on the phone, it can’t hurt to confirm any spending withdrawal limits. Not every card has them, but if yours does, it would be useful to have that information ahead of time.
Look for perks
Different cards offer different benefits, and some of them offer travel-related perks.
If your typical credit card purchases are along the lines of everyday items, you may be surprised to find out that many cards offer concierge services, rental car discounts, discounted or even free travel insurance, emergency evacuation insurance, a free breakfast, or late checkouts at hotels.
If you’re planning for big expenses, such as a hotel room or a plane ticket, try to use a card that offers rewards. In some cases, you may be able to increase your rewards by using the card’s website to book your travel.
Identity Theft Resource Center CEO Eva Velasquez recommends that you be careful not to keep all of your cards in the same place while traveling, and keep card replacement information separately.
This way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you’ll still have other cards that you can use, along with the necessary information to replace the lost cards.
Change the due dates
Even if you’ve been paying your bill on the same day of the month for years, your due dates can be changed.
Juggling bills with several due dates scattered through the month can make it harder to remember what needs to be paid when, says consumer services manager at Consumer Action, Joe Ridout.
Pick a day of the month, call your card providers and ask them to change your billing dates to the date you want.
Most credit card users don’t do this, but it can save you a lot of stress, along with late fees.
Don’t let your purchases stress you out after your vacation. Remember, no matter how you pay for what you buy, you’re still spending real money.
Whenever you reach for your card, think about how it’s going to hit your bank account, because it will. Plan your budget before you leave and stick with it while you’re gone.
Watch your ATM fees
Ridout explains that when you’re traveling, you will frequently need cash and may find yourself in a location where there are no ATMs in your network. Those foreign ATM fees can be as high as $5-6 for a cash-out.
Several credit unions and banks will refund those charges, even when you travel overseas.
Before traveling, call your bank to find out whether they offer such a refund. If not, consider calling around to find an institution that lets you access your money without too many fees.
If you’re traveling overseas, call your card issuer and ask about currency conversion fees. While many issuers no longer charge these fees, some still do, and they can be as high as 3%.
Vacation is a time for changing up the routine. When you’re going somewhere new, keep your eyes open for skimming devices on ATMs, recommends Velasquez.
Always be aware of your surroundings and keep your personal and financial safety in mind, just as you do during the rest of the year.
If you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft, myBankrate.com allows you to check your credit report for free.
Velasquez recommends a money belt or travel purse to make it easier to keep track of your cards and cash.
Credit cards offer more protection than debit cards, according to Velasquez, and if you run into a problem, it will affect your credit line instead of your cash.
You might also consider buying a travel card to use in place of your regular credit or debit card.
Travel cards are similar to prepaid cards that you can purchase and load at your bank. If the card happens to be lost or stolen, only what is on the card can be lost, while bank account remains untouched.
If you’re traveling overseas, be sure and ask whether your card will even work and whether it is commonly accepted.
You should be able to get this information from your card issuer, but you can also ask your travel agent, concierge, or at the hotel where you will be staying.
You should also find out if magnetic stripe cards are generally accepted, or whether your travel destination is predominantly chip-and-PIN.
In Europe, you can use magnetic stripe cards in most location, though some small stores or automated kiosks will require chip-and-PIN cards.
If you decide that you need or would like to get a chip-and-PIN card, you may want to contact your bank to find out if they issue them.
Even if you rely on just one card at home, having at least a couple more can come in handy when you travel, especially if they have different issuers. Not every card is accepted everywhere, and if you have an issue with one card, you can use another.
Use public Wi-Fi with caution
Public Wi-Fi and public use computers, such as those found in Internet cafés and some hotels, are an identity thief’s dream. They’re great for catching up on the news, checking the weather, or finding directions. But for anything else that requires logging in with a password, especially checking bank balances, use your smartphone.
Even better, go the low-tech route and call their toll-free number.
While there are emergency situations when public Wi-Fi or public computers may be your only option, the benefits may outweigh the risks. To minimize the risks, you can follow these simple guidelines. However, if there are any alternatives, public Wi-Fi is not a good idea.
Under no circumstances should you ever enter your card number on the website without a secure connection. Velasquez says, “My rule is that I use my (own computer’s) secure network for sensitive transactions – and would only use my phone if there was an urgent need and I was certain that the transmission was secure.”
If your phone contains banking and shopping information, make sure it’s locked. A study by the Aite Group and ACI Worldwide revealed that 11% of Americans do not lock their phones.
“It’s time we start treating our phones like the computers they really are,” says Velasquez.
Still looking for more? Feel free to check out our comprehensive personal finance guide to learn more about managing your budget and staying financially healthy.