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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Playing your cards right � tips for traveling with credit cards

Using credit cards while traveling is a good idea for a number of reasons:

--You have a record of your expenditures for record-keeping and tax purposes (especially important if you travel for business)
--You may get a better exchange rate when obtaining foreign currency when using your credit card.
--Credit card companies can refund disputed charges and may offer extra guarantees, special deals or warranties.
--Your liability in the case of a stolen credit card is limited to $50

But, traveling these days is often a juggling act of luggage, boarding passes, identification cards, passports and a gauntlet of security measures. These identification acrobatics can leave one slightly addled and perhaps more at risk of being targeted by an enterprising pickpocket or purse snatcher.

And, even though your liability is limited, costs can quickly add up if multiple cards are involved. Factor in the hassle and increased risk of identity theft, and it is apparent a few preemptive measures can save you from a boatload of heartache.

Consider the following tips as guidelines to traveling safely and affordably with your credit cards�.

Plan Ahead:

Anytime you travel you should make photo copies of all of your credit cards airline tickets and documents, both front and back. You should leave these photocopies with a friend or family member. Be aware that if you make copies of your cards and documents to take with you, you may be giving thieves another opportunity to rip off your personal information. Consider blacking out details such as expiration dates, verification codes and social security numbers.

If you decide not to carry photocopies of your credit cards, be sure to have the card cancellation numbers from the backs of the cards written down and stashed in your luggage.

Leave a Paper Trail:

Save receipts and keep track of the places you used your card. Make sure receipts are stored in a safe place so they can be checked against your credit card statement to ensure unauthorized charges have not been made and/or gone unnoticed.

Two accounts are better than one:

When traveling with other family members, even spouses, bring different credit cards that are on separate accounts. When a card is lost or stolen and must be cancelled, all cards on the account are cancelled as well. Having at least two cards from separate accounts will prevent the situation from leaving you stranded.

Keep it light:

Carry only the personal information absolutely necessary for vacation, such as a passport or driver's license. The less personal information you have, the better off you will be if your purse or wallet is stolen. When traveling by air, always keep copies of important documents in a separate part of your luggage, such as a carry-on bag.

Keep cards on your person. Most travel stores carry small bags that you can keep cards, cash, and other items you will need to access while out and about. Consider a money belt or security wallet.

Look out for fees:

When traveling abroad and using a credit card, watch out for the conversion fee that many banks levy to convert charges in foreign currencies to dollars, generally 1% of the purchase amount. Some banks charge a fee and some don�t so, if you have several cards, it's worth checking with the issuers to see which one has the best deal. Even with the conversion charge, many times ATM machines will have the best possible exchange rates and the lowest fees.

With proper planning, credit cards are a convenient, secure and cost-effective means of payment when traveling. Just keep these tips in mind, and the next time you�re balancing on one foot at the security gate, you�ll be glad you did.

Copyright � 2004 Luggage 'n' Travel Accessories


Gail Corwin is a successful author and happy traveler. Please visit, your source for luggage and travel accessories, travel related information, timely articles and tips.

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Credit Card Traps, And How To Avoid Them

"0% interest* for the first six months, no annual fees**
and a low fixed*** rate of only 8.9%****!"

* Unless you count the deferred interest we will charge you
if you don't pay off the full balance transfer amount when
the promotional period ends.

** Except the ones we charge for "late payments****", going
over your balance, cash advances, balance transfers,
membership in "rewards" programs, etc., etc., etc.

*** Fixed for the first month, but after we may change it
without notice for: late payments, going over your balance,
changes in the prime rate, or just cause we want more of
your money.

**** Rate depends on your credit score. (Which we already
checked and intend to charge you 19.8% or we wouldn't bother
sending you this great***** offer.)

***** A payment may be late if we just don't get around to
processing it in time no matter when you actually mailed it
to us.

****** May not be great in all states.

Yes, folks, "the devil is in the details" and the truth is
in the fine print.

While this is obviously an exaggerated and fictitious
example I have seen most of these "weasel" clauses in the
100s of credit card offers I receive each year.

Some of these tricks and traps are practiced by local and
national merchants with their "store credit cards" and
"discount cards".

I have seen stores and even car dealerships make "no
interest for a year" type announcements and advertisements.
But when you actually read the contract (and who does that -
they count on you to not read the whole thing and you
probably won't understand it without your attorney) you may
find that instead of the regular payments you would expect
to start at the end of the no interest period, you are
required to pay the full purchase price.

If you want to make installment payments, you will be
required to pay the payment plus the interest (look for the
rate in the fine print) and you may also be required to pay
the interest that accrued during your "interest free"
period. Gotcha!

Or how about the "no annual fees" bit. Look out for the
contract to say "no annual fees FOR THE FIRST YEAR". Or
first two years or that a "membership" fee is required. How
that differs from an "annual fee" is beyond me.

Also watch out for the "no annual fees" for the use of the
card but "membership fee required" to participate the in
frequent flyer miles or cash back points program (which was
probably why you chose that card to begin with). Gotcha!

And how about the "fixed" rate? Read the fine print, it
will actually say "subject to change without notice". Is it
just me or do I misunderstand the meaning of the word

Also your "fixed" rate may be raised to the "maximum
allowable by state law" if you go over your credit limit
(including fees that may put you over your limit before you
even know it), make a late payment, miss a payment or do not
pay the full amount. Gotcha!

And then there is that low "teaser rate". Yes that's what
it is called in the industry and it is appropriately
descriptive. That rate is given out, they aren't lying
about that. But it is only given to the people who have 700
or above credit scores, minimal debt, and a high paying job.

The majority of the people who are sent the ad will not get
the lowest rate. But you won't know your rate until you
apply for the card. But by the time they tell you what rate
you will be at they have already signed you up and issued
your card.

They count on the fact that most people will just accept the
rate and go from there. Gotcha!

So how can you avoid these traps?

Rule #1, read ALL of the fine print. If you are not clear
on something ask someone else what they think it means. Ask
an attorney friend, CPA (certified public accountant),
financial planner, banker or other person in the financial
industry. Chances are they will have several questions
about the fine print, too.

Rule #2, don't apply for a card unless or until they tell
you what your actual rate will be. This is hard because
most of them are not set up to tell you. Generally you will
need to know your credit scores and have a copy of your
credit report handy.

Even then you are unlikely to find someone through their
telephone maze that will or can actually answer your
question. Try to find a card that gives you a confirmed
rate before you apply. A conscientious company will first
request a copy of your credit report from one of the credit
bureaus before quoting you a rate.

Look on for current rates offered by
various credit card companies and banks. Often smaller
banks and companies offer better deals and are not as strict
or hard to deal with. Check with your local banks also. At
least with a locally issued credit card "you know where they

Rule #3, always mail your payment at least 7 days before it
is due. Or try paying through the Internet. Many companies
now offer that payment method. It can also save you time
and stamps.

Rule #4, check your statement each month to be sure you are
still at the interest rate you signed up for. If your rate
has been increased, look for a late payment fee, or some
other reason for the increase. Call the company and ask
them why they increased your rate.

If your rate was unjustly increased (they processed the
payment late or credited it to your account late, but it was
not received late) then ask them to change your rate back to
what it should be.

Even if you did make a late payment, most companies will
reduce your rate after six months of on-time payments. But
if you don't ask, they will keep you at the higher rate as
long as they can.

In the credit card business it is definitely "caveat emptor"
or buyer beware!


� Simple Joe, Inc.
David Berky is president of Simple Joe,
Inc. which sells the Simple Joe's Debt Eraser PC software.
Debt Eraser can help anyone get out of debt quickly and
inexpensively by creating a Rapid Debt Reduction Plan.

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