Traveling with Your Credit Card: Safety Precautions to Consider

It’s summer, which means that many of us are packing up our bags and heading for the hills (or the beach, or the museums). The last thing you want to worry about is your credit card.

Unfortunately, all too many of us face hassles with credit card security while traveling — especially during trips abroad. These problems can range from the annoying to the devastating, but most of them are very preventable. Here’s how to have a worry-free vacation.

Pre-departure Preparations

You wouldn’t leave home without booking your flight or packing your bag, and credit card security is just as important. Make sure to add a few credit card specific tasks to your pre-departure list.

  • Call your card issuer to notify them of your travel plans.

Many credit card issuers have built-in fraud protection that could shut down your card if it’s used outside of your normal purchase pattern. The last thing you want is to have your card denied at that fabulous Italian bistro, so give your card issuer a heads up.

  • Do some research regarding foreign transaction fees.

If you carry multiple credit cards, you should know that there might be a wide variation between your cards when it comes to foreign transaction fees. Call your card issuers or do some digging online to compare fees.

  • Learn how to contact your credit card issuer while abroad.

Toll-free numbers don’t typically work abroad, so you’ll need a different way to contact your credit card issuer if you encounter problems during your travels. Some cards have international numbers printed right on the back. If yours doesn’t, call them up before you leave and ask them what number to use. Write down this number and keep it with your travel documents.

  • Make copies of the front and back of your credit cards.

This is one step that’s frequently overlooked, but if your cards are stolen, having photocopies can be very helpful. Many travelers also do this for passports.

  • Make sure your card will be accepted abroad.

Not all cards are taken around the world. Consider getting an EMV chip card (if yours doesn’t already have this feature), which is more widely accepted abroad – especially in Europe.

EMV Chip Cards

EMV security chip cards are fairly new to the U.S. market, but they have become the go-to standard in other countries. These cards feature embedded microchips that can hold a large volume of dynamic data. They also require entry of a pin in order to complete a transaction, and that means that a thief who simply has your card number can’t use your card.

If you bring an American swipe card abroad, expect it to be rejected at several common locations, including:

  • Gas stations
  • Parking meters
  • Many merchants and retailers
  • Destinations in Europe other than major cities

Handling Your Credit Card While Abroad

So you’ve taken all the precautions before boarding the plane: what about when you’ve reached your destination? There are several steps you can take to avoid fraud, theft, and unnecessary trouble abroad.

  • Avoid use of your credit card in less-than-secure situations.

The street vendor may have a lovely smile and even better food for sale, but this probably isn’t the best place to pull out your credit card.

  • Have your travel companion carry a different card as a back-up.

Even if you plan on relying primarily on one card, it’s not a bad idea to have a back-up along — and to have it carried by someone else. That way, if your wallet or money carrier is lost or stolen, you aren’t completely out of luck.

  • Keep your credit card in sight.

Try to hand your credit card directly to the person who will be processing the transaction. You’ll want to avoid situations where someone takes your card out of sight to process a transaction, because that scenario makes it easy for them to steal your information.

  • Be cautious with ATMs.

ATM fees can be extremely steep for international transactions. In addition, many foreign ATMs (especially outside of western Europe) are not as secure as we may expect from our U.S. counterparts. If you are traveling abroad and you must use an ATM, choose one that is attached to a legitimate business (preferably a bank).

  • Carry cash or travelers checks as back-up.

Try to carry enough local currency or traveler’s checks to get by each day (but not so much that you’re a ripe target for muggers). Credit cards are convenient, but if yours is declined or stolen and you don’t have an alternative method of payment available, you won’t think it’s very convenient. Look into getting a discreet carrying pouch specifically designed for passports and money, which is much more secure than a wallet or purse.

  • Document everything.

Keep receipts of all purchases in case mysterious charges are added to your account later. Keeping receipts also helps with expense tracking, so you can stay on budget.

The Bottom Line

This list may have left you a little uneasy. Don’t worry — you’ve already taken the first step by informing yourself. Credit cards are usually part of the solution — not the problem, when you’re traveling abroad. All you have to do is take proper precautions and exercise a bit of due diligence. Just think about how much more relaxing that well-deserved vacation will be, knowing that you don’t have to spend a moment worrying about your credit cards.

Bon Voyage!

Article Source: Ellen Gans for thesimpledollar.com

3 Ways to Stay Out of Debt

Your student loans are paid off, and you finally got rid of that credit card debt. It’s a great feeling to be debt free, and it only feels better when you’ve stayed that way for a while. Going forward, here are three things to be mindful of if you don’t want to slip back into debt.

Be ready for the unexpected: A car wreck could happen in an instant and you could be responsible for car repairs or medical bills. If you’re not prepared with an emergency fund, you might have to put those payments on credit, and then you’ll be right back where you started. Make sure you start saving a little bit every month, so when those unexpected bills happen – you’ll be ready.

Stick to your lists: Always make a list before you go shopping. If you like shopping with your credit card (credit rewards or cash back can be great), make sure you buy only what you intended to. A few extra bucks here and there can cause you to go over budget, and even leaving a small balance on your credit card can get you in trouble over time.

Take a long look at your subscriptions: Whether it’s a gym membership, a streaming service, magazines, or whatever else, make sure you’re really getting value out of any recurring purchase that you’re subscribed to. If you haven’t been to the gym in the last couple years, it’s probably time to stop giving them your money – even if it’s only twenty dollars a month.

Article Source: John Pettit for CUInsight.com

Do 0% Interest Credit Cards Have a Dark Side?

If credit card interest payments were merely a matter of mathematics, 0% interest would be a no-brainer. Given a choice between paying interest or not paying interest, of course nobody would choose to pay, would they? Common sense says paying ZERO dollars in interest is the best possible way to borrow money. So, why should you think twice before agreeing to a 0% interest credit card or balance transfer promotion? Two words: Fine. Print.

All that glitters is not gold.

There’s a marketing proverb that says, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” And make no mistake, 0% offers are most definitely sizzle! If utilized properly, these promotions can save you money. But if you don’t pay close attention to the details found in the fine print of cardholder agreements, those offers could wind up costing you more than you wanted to pay (which is sadly, often the case). With so many credit card companies offering 0% interest cards and balance transfer promotions, it’s difficult to compile an exhaustive list of potential pitfalls. So, rather than trying to cover all the caveats, let’s focus on the features that, if ignored – could quickly take the shine off any promotional offer.

  • Transfer fees.
    In many instances, transferring a balance from one credit card to another involves a fee (usually ranging from 3-5% of the balance). Depending on the amount you transfer, this additional fee could significantly lessen your overall savings. Not every balance transfer promotion includes a fee, so do your research before you accept an offer. It’s never fun to discover unexpected fees after you’ve already committed to an offer’s terms and conditions.
  • Steep interest charges after the introductory period ends.
    0% interest is a good thing. But unfortunately, the adage is true. All good things must come to an end. Most of these promotions include a limited-time introductory period of 0%, after which, the remaining balance will begin accruing interest—often at a high rate. If you plan to pay off your entire balance during the introductory period, the transfer can be a huge benefit. However, if you’re planning to carry the balance forward (or if you forget to pay your balance off before the 0% ends), it’s best to know when the interest charges will start and how much they will be. Once again, reading that cardholder agreement and fine print is key. After the 0% introductory period ends, some of these credit cards can have an APR of nearly 30% – and if your balance isn’t paid off by this time, you could be charged that insanely high interest rate for not only what you have left to pay off, but what you transferred over in full in the first place. We can’t say it enough: before you open a 0% interest credit card, be sure you understand the terms and conditions in full.
  • Higher interest rates on new purchases.
    Be careful. The 0% interest rate on your transferred balance also rarely applies to new purchases. The major credit card companies are in business to make money, and interest charges are their primary source of revenue. By charging a higher interest rate on new purchases, credit card companies can offset the interest they’re missing over the course of promotional introductory period. So, before you start racking up charges above and beyond the balance you transfer, take time to know exactly how much interest you’ll be paying.

First Financial’s Visa Credit Cards offer benefits that include higher credit lines, lower APRs, no annual fees, no balance transfer fees, a 10-day grace period, rewards (cash back or on travel & retailer gift cards), an EMV security chip, and more!*

Click here to learn about our credit card options and apply online today.

*APR varies from 12.15% to 18% for the Visa Platinum Card and from 14.15% to 18% for the Visa Signature and Secured Cards when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. No late fee will be charged if payment is received within 10 days from the payment due date.

Should You Pay for Credit Repair Services?

Should You Pay for Credit Repair Services? Probably not.

Call it a coincidence. Call it savvy marketing. Whatever you call it, there always seems to be a spike in credit repair advertisements around the time the first holiday shopping bills arrive. Maybe you’re staring wide-eyed at a balance that’s higher than you expected, wondering how you’re even going to keep up with the minimum payments. This kind of uncertainty can the stage for bad decisions. So, before you scramble and sign up for credit repair services, take a deep breath and realize you have more control than you think.

Risk vs. Reward: Is credit repair worth the cost?

It’s important to remember that some credit repair services are legitimate businesses, able to follow through on their claims. Unfortunately, the reputable companies reside in a corporate landscape littered with scam artists and opportunists. If you’re willing to devote enough time and research, it’s possible to separate the upstanding services from the scams, but as NerdWallet columnist Liz Weston points out, “If you’re able to do that kind of research, then you can certainly figure out credit repair and do it yourself.”

While the trustworthy credit repair companies aren’t necessarily too good to be true, there’s a good chance they’re too costly to be worth it. When you consider that many of these services charge monthly fees ranging from $30-$100, the boost in your credit rating may not justify the ongoing expense.

Facing credit challenges? Your credit union can help.

Good credit isn’t the result of tricks and trade secrets. It’s established by applying solid financial habits over time. The same holds true for credit repair. While there may be some additional steps required to clean up your credit report, rebuilding good credit requires a consistent commitment to responsible money management.

Credit unions exist to ensure the financial success of their members. Educating people on proper credit management is part of that mission. If you’re drowning in debt and struggling to regain your financial footing, your credit union could be the lifeline you’re looking for. Discussing your current challenges with one of the credit union’s representatives can be the first step toward putting those struggles behind you.

Repairing damaged credit is no walk in the park. But with a little hard work and dedication and the guidance of your credit union’s financial professionals, you can be on the way to reclaiming the good credit you deserve.

Need a little help understanding your credit score or want to sit down with a First Financial representative to help with debt management strategies? Stop into your nearest branch location, email marketingbd@firstffcu.com, or call 732-312-1500 to schedule an appointment. We’ll help you get back on track!

Check out out guide for understanding your credit score.

 

Is Your Credit Score Affecting Your Quality of Life?

The American dream is usually characterized as working hard from the bottom up, making a good salary, buying a house, and having time to create and enjoy your family life. But the vision doesn’t always come together so neatly – despite strong buyer demand, the inventory of affordable, available starter homes is relatively low, and to secure a mortgage, you need a strong credit score (something that not all Americans have or understand).

Even in the face of this unfamiliarity, most people realize that your credit score is the main determining factor in whether you qualify for a loan, and what rate you’ll pay on that loan. However, your credit score has the power to affect your life in far more than just one area — it can make or break your vision of the American dream on all sides.

JOBS

Though not all employers will check your credit score before hiring you, and most employers won’t rule out a candidate just because they have a bad credit score, your credit score could have an impact on how you’re seen by prospective employers. If they run a report and see that you’ve had a checkered financial history, and realize you’ll be handling financial responsibilities in the office, they may believe you’re underqualified, and move onto other candidates.

The good news is employers aren’t always allowed to view your credit report. According to Credit Karma, “The short answer is no, credit bureaus do not share your credit score with employers. Subject to restrictions in state law, employers may, however, ask to see your credit report. When your information is requested, credit bureaus will send over a variation of your credit report meant specifically for employers.”

APARTMENT RENTALS

Similarly, your credit score affects housing in more ways than solely influencing your mortgage rates and availability. Landlords will frequently check prospective tenants’ credit scores before choosing whether to rent the apartment to them. Obviously, if a tenant has a history of missing payments, or being late with payments, they’re going to be secondary options to tenants with strong financial backgrounds.

BILLS AND PAYMENTS

Your credit score could even affect how you’re expected to pay for utilities — especially when moving to a new location. When turning on utilities for the first time, a utility company may require you to leave an upfront deposit. If you have a high credit score, they may waive that deposit, but they may charge you more if your credit score is especially low. According to the FTC, “Like other creditors, utility companies ask for information like your Social Security Number so they can check your credit history — particularly your utility payment history. A good credit history makes it easier for you to get services. A poor credit history can make it more difficult.”

RELATIONSHIPS

Your credit score can even affect the quality of your relationships. It’s no surprise that money and financial issues are the biggest causes of couples’ fights (and breakups). If your partner is fiscally responsible, but you’ve had a more questionable history, it could lead to bigger arguments. For example, will you be willing to buy a house together? Will your credit score negatively impact your joint mortgage rate? Will you be paying off your debt together? Even a little money-related stress can quickly escalate into a bigger problem.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CREDIT SCORE

If you’re reading all of this and feeling nervous about your own credit score, take a deep breath. Even if your credit score isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be, there’s always time to revise and improve it. Your first step is to know what your credit score is – and thankfully, you can check it for free. Once you know your credit score, you can take the following steps to improve it (and along with it, the quality of your life):

  • Understand your weak points. First, understand why your credit score is where it is. Is it because you’ve accumulated a lot of credit card debt? Is it because you missed several payments? There are many reasons here, but almost all of them can be corrected with better habits in the future.
  • Avoid new credit or debt. Don’t apply for any new loans or credit cards, this could tank your score even harder. Instead, focus on the lines of credit you already have.
  • Pay all your bills on time. This is the most important factor to focus on – from here on out, make sure you pay all your bills in full and on time. If you need to create a strict budget to do it, then do it. Without a steady history of on-time payments, you won’t be able to lower your score.
  • Start paying off your debt. Finally, work to start paying off your debt. Consider moving to a lower-cost area, taking on a second job, and cutting any unnecessary expenses. You can even call your credit card companies to negotiate for a lower rate. Once your debt totals start decreasing, you’ll feel happier and more optimistic as well.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for a bad credit score. It takes years to build an initial score, and months to years to make a significant change. You’ll have to be consistent and patient if you want to succeed, but as long as you stay committed to your financial future, it can be done.

Need a little help understanding your credit score or want to sit down with a First Financial representative to help with debt management strategies? Stop into your nearest branch location, email marketingbd@firstffcu.com, or call 732-312-1500 to schedule an appointment.

Learn to manage your credit and reduce debt with our easy guide.

Article Source: Anna Johansson for NBCnews.com

How to Eliminate Debt Using the Snowball Method

The snowball method is a simple debt elimination strategy that can be employed by anyone of any income level to quickly pay off debt.

Begin by making a chart of all outstanding debt and list your monthly payment.

Then, organize your debt in order of highest monthly payment to lowest monthly payment.

Each month, pay the minimum payment on all debt except the lowest.

For the lowest debt, pay the minimum plus any extra you can. Ideally, pay double (or more if possible) to quickly pay off this loan.

After the lowest debt is paid off, roll what you were paying on it into the next lowest debt. It will be the next loan you pay off.

This accumulation method, like a snowball effect, works because it’s clear and concise.

By tackling the smallest debt first, it’s easier not to be overwhelmed. Once it’s paid off, you’ll feel more empowered to tackle debt after debt till there’s none left!

Article Source: Jennifer Reynolds for CUInsight.com