With spring break right around the corner, students and families alike are busy gearing up for travel. Laura Cole, director of the Masters Investment Learning Center in the Haslam College of Business, offers some advice for financial safety and convenience to help you enjoy a stress-free spring break.
Cole points out that for your protection, banks and credit card companies monitor your spending activity, so when they notice transactions from unusual locations, they may suspect fraud and temporarily freeze your accounts. To avoid this problem, she recommends contacting your financial institutions before your trip to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling. Setting travel notices on your accounts reduces the chances of your transactions being declined.
When packing, Cole advises removing most items from your wallet. Bring only your necessary identification, enough cash for two days of travel and two credit cards–one you plan to use and one for backup. Leave checkbooks at home and don’t carry anything that shows your Social Security number. Cole says the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that focuses on identity theft prevention, suggests making copies of health insurance cards and other important documents you may need in case of emergency, and removing the last four digits of your Social Security number.
“Bring the photocopy with you on your trip, or take a photo and keep it on your phone,” Cole advises. “Leave the original card at home.”
Your phone can also come in handy for keeping your finances organized while on vacation. Before your trip, Cole says, download your bank and credit card apps, as well as a direct payment app like PayPal or Venmo. To split travel expenses with friends, try Splitwise, an app that permits PayPal and Venmo payments, or Splid, which works on- and offline.
When dining out with a group, Cole advises using an app like Plates or Tab. “Plates tracks the history of who has picked up the check and who owes what over time and sends reminders,” she says. “Tab takes a photo of the bill and lets you assign split totals from the image, and then calculates subtotals for each diner.”
For those who like to pay in cash, Cole says making withdrawals with a debit card is fine as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and don’t use an ATM that looks unsafe. For major purchases, she recommends using a credit card. Watch out for pickpockets, especially in crowded areas, and when your cards and other valuables aren’t in use, keep them in a hotel safe if possible.
When your trip is over, carefully review your accounts. If you notice any unfamiliar charges or other discrepancies, contact your financial institutions right away. As an added precaution, Cole recommends changing the PIN for each of your cards when you get home.
Stacy Estep, business writer/publicist (865-974-7881, firstname.lastname@example.org)