A Week at The Beach…How I Chose The Credit Card I’ll Use

Tomorrow we head out for a week and the beach and my bags are almost packed. When I leave tomorrow morning I’m going to have to decide which credit cards I want to take, and which to leave at home. And while the decision seems academic, it really isn’t. When you’re on the road there are a few things to consider when choosing your plastic.

Usability – It’s true that most retailers and merchants will take almost any type of credit card, but there are some exceptions especially in small towns with more localized merchants. National chains, yeah they’ll take any card. The small local bait shop or mom and pop tiki bar…they won’t take every card. So, I’ve packed an American Express card, a Discover card, and a Visa card. I’ve got my usability issues taken care of.

Gas cards and Gift cards – About 3 months before my trip I started to redeem reward points for general use gift cards and a few gasoline gift cards. That means I won’t have to charge any gas or food on a credit card. Sweet!  That will certainly control the balance at the end of the month. Two Amex gift cards and a Texaco gift card.

Large credit limit – We’re going with several other family members so we’re staying in a huge condo, which is going to set us back over $5,000 for the week. I’ve agreed to put the condo deposit and charge on one of my credit cards. Because it’s such a large amount I chose a card with a $25,000 credit limit. That will protect my credit scores, to some extent, from the spike in my balance to limit ratio when the balance hits my credit reports. I’ll pay it off as soon as the other family members settle up with me and I’ll have it paid off within a month. So, any potential credit score damage will be short lives.

FCBA Protection – The Fair Credit Billing Act is the Federal law that protects cardholders from fraud. It doesn’t really matter which credit card you choose, you’ll still have the same fraud protection, which limits your liability to no more than $50 if your card is stolen and used fraudulently. But, you HAVE to choose a credit card. Debit cards do not have the same level of fraud protection.

Anything but Debit – The EFTA (Electronic Funds Transfer Act) is the Federal law that somewhat protects debit card users from fraud. Your liability is capped at $500, depending on when you report the stolen card. But, do you really want to be dealing with this while you’re on vacation?  And, the money that has been stolen is your money, not the banks money.

JRU on 60 Mins SetCredit Reporting Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, founder of www.creditexpertwitness.com and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  You can follow John on Twitter here.

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