Could your phone help prevent card denials when you travel?

Having your card declined while you’re traveling can be embarrassing, annoying and even distressing, if you’re trying to use it in an emergency. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil, as it’s part of your bank’s mission to prevent fraud; if someone is buying train tickets from Paris to Milan, and you live in Phoenix, the bank may block the transaction and wait for you to call and confirm it.smartphone geolocation

Visa and MasterCard, however, are rolling out some solutions that could benefit frequent travelers. By collecting location data via your phone and ticket purchases, card networks can give banks a better read on your whereabouts – and the ability to more confidently approve the transaction if it seems you’re actually at a train station in Paris.

We asked Visa and MasterCard how these solutions work – and what they mean for your privacy.

Visa’s Travel Authorization Tag

This is a behind-the-scenes service Visa offers to issuers. If you buy a ticket (such as an airline or cruise ticket) with your Visa card, Visa shares relevant information about your plans with your bank, including projected locations and dates.

“If you bought a ticket for a cruise that’s leaving out of Florida, Visa now knows that the cruise begins in Florida,” says Mark Nelsen, senior vice president of risk products and business intelligence for Visa. “So if you’re using your card in Florida at the time of the cruise, there’s a match. We send that match indicator to the issuing bank, and they can use it to more confidently approve the transaction.”

Phone-based geolocation services from Visa and MasterCard

If your mobile device (and, by extension, you) is in roughly the same location as the place you’re using the card, it stands to reason that you’re probably the one making the transaction, right?

That’s why MasterCard and Visa are both working on similar solutions that use your phone’s location, compare it to where the card is being used and pass that intel on to your bank when you make a purchase. MasterCard’s is called MasterCard Locations Alerts (developed in partnership with telecommunications technology company Syniverse), and Visa’s is called Visa Location Confirmation.

Up to 80 percent of transactions declined when consumers travel overseas are actually legitimate, says Bernhard Mors, vice president of corporate communications for MasterCard. Confirming the card and mobile device are in close proximity allows the bank to be more certain in approving legitimate transactions – and also more able to accurately decline fraudulent ones.

“For example, if a consumer and his phone are in London, and we see an attempt to make a payment transaction at a point of sale in Frankfurt or Dubai, very likely this is not a legitimate transaction, and therefore it would be declined,” Mors says.

This means consumers shouldn’t have to worry as much about card rejection across the world, and banks will have fewer customer-service snags to deal with.

“Apart from helping to reduce fraud, this solution gives cardholders the confidence that their card will be authorized when they travel abroad,” Mors says. “Fewer wrong declines also reduces the cost for issuers interacting with their customers.”

For both Visa’s and Mastercard’s service, you’ll opt in via the bank that issued your credit card. Visa turned on Location Confirmation for issuers in April 2015, and it’s now being tested by a major bank, Nelsen says, with several other banks in the process of incorporating it. Nelsen estimates that some consumers will start to see the service integrated into their banks’ mobile apps in fall 2015. MasterCard is pilot-testing Location Alerts in several markets and anticipates bringing it to market in Q3 2015, Mors says.

Once you’ve opted in to the service via your issuer, you won’t have to do much else, Mors and Nelsen say.

“It’s really just running behind the scenes,” Nelsen says. “You don’t have to log in to the app or anything.”

How often Visa updates your location depends on where in the world you are, Nelsen says.

Once you opt in with your bank, the technology will determine your home location automatically, based on two weeks of information. If you’re within 50 miles of that location, Location Confirmation updates Visa with your whereabouts just once a day. If you travel more than 50 miles from home, Visa gets an update – and another whenever you then travel more than five miles from that update. If you spend a couple weeks in the same area without moving, that becomes your new home location. The latest update is the location Visa will pass to your issuer when you make a purchase.

So what happens if your phone is turned off – or not connected to the network? It doesn’t necessarily mean your transaction will get rejected, Mors and Nelsen say. If the phone is off, the issuer will revert to its standard validation process, Mors says, to authorize or decline the purchase.

As for Visa, the Location Confirmation data is just one of 500 data points that go into the “risk score” Visa generates for each transaction. Location Confirmation will designate the phone’s location as a match, a non-match or “unknown,” Nelsen says.

“So if your phone is turned off and there hasn’t been an update in 24 hours, we simply say we don’t know. We send an ‘unknown’ indicator to the issuer, and it doesn’t affect the risk score, and it doesn’t affect their positioning for that particular transaction.”

Privacy concerns

Don’t want your issuer tracking you this way? No problem. Don’t opt in.

“When you download the bank’s app on your phone, it would say, ‘Would you like to participate in this and share your location information for fraud detection purposes?’ ” Nelsen explains.

If you do opt in, Nelsen notes that issuing banks using the service are required to agree they will use location data only for fraud detection – not marketing. And if you opt in and decide to opt out, all location information collected by the service will be erased.

“It’s all about convenience,” Nelsen says. “If you’re traveling a lot and you’re getting declined, then this would be a super convenient feature. If you’re someone who really doesn’t like it, you don’t have to opt in.”

These cards can get you free Wi-Fi while traveling

Credit cards are offering increasingly enticing benefits for frequent travelers, from lounge access to reimbursement for incidental fees. But there’s one travel-related expense that often falls through the cracks: Wi-Fi.

Because public and in-flight Wi-Fi is generally provided by third parties unaffiliated with issuers and the airlines, free Wi-Fi is a rare credit card benefit. Yet several cards offer it. Read on for details.

Discover it miles: $30 worth of in-flight Wi-Fi each year.

This benefit reimburses you up to $30 each year (12 consecutive months following the date you opened your account) for Wi-Fi access purchased on an aircraft. An all-day pass for Gogo (which provides Wi-Fi access on most domestic carriers) costs $16, while a 1-hour pass costs $5. So, while this benefit may be good for only a few flights, it may be handy for the occasional I-need-to-check-my-email Wi-Fi purchase.

Platinum Card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner): Unlimited Boingo access

Boingo provides Wi-Fi access at many airports and public hotspots worldwide. With this card, you can get complimentary, unlimited access on up to four devices. If you were to buy this service directly from Boingo, it would cost $39 per month (as of June 2015). You will need to enroll in the Boingo American Express Preferred plan to receive this benefit. Check your card’s terms for instructions.

American Express Business Platinum: Unlimited Boingo access and 10 Gogo passes per year

There are two parts to this card’s Wi-Fi benefits, making it a good fit for business travelers who practically live in airports and on planes and need to stay connected:

  1. Boingo: As with the regular American Express Platinum, you get unlimited Boingo access (see the details above.
  2. Gogo: To get this benefit, enroll your card in the Gogo Preferred program. Each basic and additional cardholder will get 10 complimentary Gogo inflight Internet passes per calendar year. Each pass is good for one flight segment. Passes must be activated online – read your card’s benefit description to find out how.

credit card wi-fi benefitsExpedia+ Voyager: $100 annual statement credit that can be used toward Wi-Fi carriers

Both Boingo and Gogo are covered under this benefit. If you use either of these providers, you’ll be reimbursed for the cost (up to $100 per calendar year). You can also use this credit toward other airline incidental fees on qualifying airlines.

Note: Plenty of cards give you statement credits against “incidental travel fees.” However, this benefit may not work for Wi-Fi providers, even if you purchase access on a plane or in an airport. Why? For some cards, only purchases made directly with the airline are eligible – and Wi-Fi access is purchased from a third-party provider, not the airline. Read your card’s terms carefully.

Other work-arounds

The cards above explicitly list free Wi-Fi in their benefits. Yet other cards can get you free Wi-Fi in more round-about ways.

Hotel cards that give you elite status: Some hotel cards give you elite status, guaranteeing you in-room Wi-Fi. However, hotels are increasingly moving toward the free-Wi-Fi-for-all model, so elite status is becoming less necessary for complimentary Internet. In some cases, though, upper-tier elite status can get you a faster connection. Marriott, for example, gives Gold and Platinum Elite members higher-speed “premium” Internet. And its co-branded card gives you 15 elite credits each year, putting you that much closer to this perk.

Cards that get you lounge access: Complimentary Wi-Fi is often a fixture at airport lounges. And there are plenty of cards that will get you into these lounges for free or at a discounted rate. Explore your options by viewing our chart here.

Lost credit card overseas – what to do

Having your card vanish in your home city is inconvenient enough. Abroad, a lost or stolen card can spark a chain reaction of inconveniences that unravel a carefully planned trip.

If you’re ever in this situation, follow this step-by-step plan.card lost abroad

1. Notify your issuer:
If you have internet access, this part is easy. Bank of America, for example, allows you to report a stolen card via mobile and online banking, says spokeswoman Betty Riess.

If you need to (or prefer to) handle things by phone, call your issuer’s designated collect number for calls from outside the U.S. For American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), that number is 336-393-1111. For Discover, it’s 801-902-3100. For other cards, it depends on your issuer and will be printed on the back of your card (which is why it’s important to make a copy before you leave).

Another option: Card networks (Visa, MasterCard and American Express) offer hotlines for travel emergencies. They can help you start the process of reporting your card missing and, if other important travel documents (like your passport) were stolen as well, these hotlines can offer guidance.

  • Visa: Visit this page to find the hotline for the country in which you’ll be traveling. Visa’s Global Customer Care Assistance services will help guide you through the steps of reporting and replacing a missing card and getting emergency cash, says Davin Chow, vice president of North America credit card products for Visa.

    “They may need your account information, so prior to traveling we’d recommend keeping your account information in a safe and secure place,” Chow says.

  • MasterCard: Go here for a list of hotlines by country.
  • Discover: From outside the U.S., call 1-801-902-3100 to access its Travel Assistance services. Discover is discontinuing this benefit on Aug. 1, 2015.
  • American Express: American Express’s Global Assist hotline can be reached at 715-343-7977.

2. Ask for a replacement:
If your location isn’t too remote, your issuer can probably send you a replacement card, says Nessa Feddis, spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association.

Bank of America can typically expedite replacement cards so that they arrive within 24 hours, Riess says. As for American Express, its customer care reps can discuss various replacement options and timetables; no fee will be charged for replacement cards, according to American Express spokesman Dan Clayton.

Expect your issuer to verify your identity before replacing your card. Once your replacement arrives, activate it. You can generally do this by phone, online or via the issuer’s app.

3. Ask about emergency cash: In some cases, your issuer might assist you with getting cash to hold you over until your replacement card arrives. For example, emergency cash is available to Bank of America cardholders if expedited card replacement isn’t timely enough, Riess says.

American Express cardholders traveling more than 100 miles from home can use Global Assist to get an emergency cash wire – after answering security questions to verify their identity, says Clayton.

4. Optional: File a police report: Your issuer probably won’t require this step.

“A police report isn’t necessary for us to invalidate the lost card and send a replacement,” Clayton says. “A Card Member may choose to file a police report, but we do not require it.”

If the thief made off with more than just your cards (your new camera or laptop, for example), a police report is probably a good idea. In fact, it’s instrumental in claiming another of your card’s benefits – reimbursement for stolen items.

Before you leave

If your card is stolen, reporting and replacing it will be easier if you do the following before leaving home:

  1. Make a list of important numbers: Write down (or save in your phone) the telephone numbers on the back of all your cards, suggests Feddis. Or, make copies of all your cards. That way, you can report the card stolen immediately, which ensures you won’t be held responsible for any charges or withdrawals a thief makes.

    These days, most issuers and card networks provide zero liability coverage on their credit cards. In other words, you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized transactions. Things can be more complicated with debit, though. While banks may give you more leeway, by law they can hold you responsible for a thief’s charges if you wait too long to report the card stolen.

    So the best thing to do is just report your debit or credit card stolen as soon as it’s gone.

    “The point is you don’t have to worry if you report it as soon as you discover it’s missing,” Feddis says. “But if you wait and someone continues to use it, then you might be responsible for some of the fraudulent transactions.”

  2. Document your account information: Keep your account numbers in a safe, secure place, Chow suggests.
  3. Have back-up modes of payment: Ideally, this would include cash and an alternative card, Feddis says. Pack them in separate bags (or keep a card in the hotel safe) so that, if the bag holding your wallet is stolen, you won’t lose everything.
  4. Register for transaction notifications: You can choose to receive SMS or email notifications from your bank about activity on your account, Chow notes. This might alert you to the fact that your card is being used by someone else before you even know it’s gone.

After paying your dues with credit-building cards, you’ve achieved an enviable credit score. Your FICO score has climbed into the upper-700s, and the preapproved offers in your mailbox are no longer for subprime offers but for cards that require “excellent credit.” excellent credit score

Yet this new world can be daunting. As frustrating as bad credit was, your game plan was simple: Get approved for whichever secured card would take you and celebrate the small victory of getting approved for an unsecured cards with no or limited rewards. Now, you have options — many, many options.

Because your decision should be based on your needs (and only you know what those needs are), we’re not going to recommend the “best cards for excellent credit” or anything like that. What we can suggest are some of the perks and benefits now within your reach – and what you shouldn’t settle for.

You don’t have to pay for the card unless you want to

Generally, secured cards cost you money in some way, either via an annual fee, or a required deposit to secure the credit line. Cards for excellent credit, meanwhile, don’t have to cost you anything – although you may opt for an annual-fee card that brings you additional benefits.

In some cases, cards designed for prime customers offer two versions of the product – one with an annual fee and one without. For example, the Barclaycard Arrival is available as a no-annual-fee version and as an $89-a-year “Plus” version. American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner), meanwhile, offers the Blue Cash Everyday card as a no-annual-fee counterpart to the Blue Cash Preferred card. Its “EveryDay” cards also offer annual-fee and no-annual-fee versions.

Cards with annual fees generally offer higher rewards rates and additional benefits. If you’re not sure that you’ll get your money’s worth, consider trying a no-annual-fee card first and then then exploring the more lucrative perks that cards with annual fees provide.

Expect a sign-up bonus

Now that your credit is in better shape, expect a reward for giving an issuer your business. And, no, just approving your application is no longer enough.

Often, issuers targeting prime customers will give bonus points or cash back if you spend a certain amount in the first several months of cardmembership. In other cases, the issuer may double the rewards you earned over a certain period.

Make sure you research sign-up bonuses before applying to make sure it’s the best offer out there. For example, you might see an offer for $100 cash back (after meeting a spending target) advertised somehwere — but then find a limited-time offer for even more (for the same spending target) in your mailbox or on a card-comparison site.

Insist on accelerated rewards and higher point value

Even some cards for fair credit give rewards – albeit modest ones. In the big leagues, though, you no longer have to be grateful for whatever you can get. That might mean elevated cash back (more than 1 percent back) across the board. It might mean even more cash back in certain categories (5 percent back in rotating categories, for example, or 2 percent back year-round on dining and travel). Or, it might mean benefits that allow you to transfer points into other programs where they’ll fetch a superior value.

Seek out premium perks and protections

Issuers seeking prime customers market their cards toward those who will use them for expensive purchases (including travel) – and who want to protect those purchases. Certain basic perks come with even fair-credit cards nowadays, but cards for those with excellent credit may offer higher coverage limits and enhanced protections.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and United MileagePlus cards provide primary rental car insurance, which pays out before your regular car insurance. Most other cards, in contrast, provide secondary insurance, meaning you have to first file a claim under your regular insurance. The Platinum Card from American Express, meanwhile, offers higher coverage limits (compared to most other cards) when it comes to coverage for stolen items and for lost or stolen baggage. A few cards (including the American Express Platinum and Premier Rewards Gold) give complimentary roadside assistance for certain services up to four times per year.

Also, because excellent credit is more likely to land you a Visa Signature, World MasterCard or World Elite MasterCard — you’ll have access to those cards’ suites of benefits, including travel insurance, as well.

Get reimbursed for travel expenses

It’s becoming a trend for travel cards to offer statement credits against incidental travel purchases. Now that your credit puts such cards within reach, you can be reimbursed to the tune of $100 to $200 a year for things like baggage fees, in-flight food, hotel spa visits and drink and lounge access. Check out our table that shows cards providing this perk. And don’t forget the travel cards that provide complimentary lounge access.

Not all premium credit cards provide all the perks above. But, if any of these benefits are important to you, you should have an easier time qualifying for a card that provides them. While card terms and benefits differ, with excellent credit, you should seek out a card that combines solid protections with generous perks and lucrative rewards redemptions.

Will a day-late card payment hurt your credit score?

You didn’t set up autopay, and, for whatever reason, your credit card due date – which was yesterday — slipped your mind. Do you need to panic about credit damage?

The short answer is probably not – although there might be some consequences if you wait too long to catch up. now vs. later

Fewer than 30 days late? You’re in the clear, credit-wise

“The news is all good for the consumer,” says John Ulzheimer, credit expert with Credit Sesame.

That’s because lenders don’t – and can’t – report payments that are fewer than 30 days late, Ulzheimer explains. The credit reporting agencies’ trade association (the Consumer Data Industry Association) publishes an annual standards guide called the “Credit Reporting Resource Guide.” It determines the account status codes – which lenders choose from to label late payments:

  • 30-59 days past the due date
  • 60-89 days past the due date
  • 90-119 days past the due date
  • 120-149 days past the due date
  • 150-179 days past the due date
  • 180 or more days past the due date

Notice what’s missing?

“There is no systematic way to report someone late who is only one to 29 days past due,” Ulzheimer says. “The reporting options start at 30 days late and go up from there.”

Even if a lender wanted to report a late payment before the 30-day mark, it couldn’t – at least not accurately.

“If a creditor reported someone late who is only one to 29 days past due then they’d be reporting something knowingly incorrect to the credit bureaus because they’d be reporting them as being a full 30 days late or something greater than that,” Ulzheimer says.

The bottom line: Don’t panic about your credit score if you’re less than a payment cycle late.
“If a late payment isn’t reported on your credit report, it’s not going to affect credit scores,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian.

A day-late payment can still cost you

Issuers have penalties of their own if you miss a payment by even a day. Your bank may charge you a late fee (although it may agree to waive it if you ask). Late payments can also void a 0 percent interest deal you have on a store card.

Wait another cycle? That’s where the real problems start

“If you miss a full billing cycle, it’s almost certainly going to be reported,” Griffin says.

And the later the payment is, the more it will weigh down your credit score.

Extremely late payments can have serious financial repercussions as well. Cards generally have penalty APRs – big, ugly APRs reserved for those who fall far behind. The CARD Act allows issuers to unleash these APRs on your current balance if you become 60 days late. Thought you were having a tough time paying off your balance at the original rate? Try doing so with an APR near 30 percent.

When it comes to credit reports, a more-than-30-days-late payment sticks around for seven years from the date it was first reported to the bureaus. You can end up with several late payment notations for the same account, Griffin says. For example, if you go more than 30 days late, then catch up, and then become delinquent a few months later, both those notations will each stay parked on your report for seven years from the dates they were originally reported.

Even so, your score can recover in time. Late payments carry less score weight as they fade into the past. Moreover, fresh, recent good payment data can buoy your score.

“Catching up on that payment and keeping that account current can help your score recover more quickly,” Griffin says.