Got a credit card? Get another one.

th-1In the past month or so I’ve had four credit cards compromised. Notice of the latest breach came via e-mail this morning: Some thieving bastard(s) purchased hundreds of dollars’ worth of stuff from Walmart.com and then tried to spend hundreds more at a different online company.

The other three credit cards weren’t part of the latest Target breach, in which as many as 40 million people had their data stolen. But that theft should help convince people to come around to my way of thinking: that you need at least two credit cards. Suppose you were on vacation or traveling on business and found your plastic didn’t work?

Which is exactly what happened to me: I’m currently in Phoenix, about to celebrate Christmas with my daughter and son-in-law. The card that got hacked is now kaput. What if I wanted to go shopping, or needed to pay for a van ride back to the airport?

Fact is, I have enough cash and my daughter will make sure I get back to Sky Harbor. But I also have another credit card. Right now it’s tucked away and I might not need to use it at all. But I’m glad it’s there, just in case.

Keeping your options open

We shouldn’t rely on credit cards, but they do make some things – especially travel – a lot easier.

You can also use credit rewards programs to your advantage; in fact, the majority of my holiday gifts this year came from rewards points. This is particularly important in view of my recent economic downturn.

On two occasions I’ve had family health crises in other states and needed to fly out immediately. Once I became sick while traveling and had to leave the plane for the emergency room; afterward, I needed a hotel room until I was cleared to travel the following afternoon.

I am not suggesting irresponsible credit card use. But I think you should keep your options open – and having more than one card lets you do that.


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  1. I had an issue with my debit card few years ago, when I purchased a DSLR camera and the bank locked the card (unusual spending, I’d routinely get under 400 bucks out of the account, so 1000 bucks did raise a red flag). I got a new one in few days, but we were planning on going into a vacation, so I just got cash for our expenses. I would also be able to get into any of the bank’s office and get my money from the cashier’s, so it’s not such an issue. It is unpleasant, but can be solved 😉

    • Donna Freedman

      I’m glad that worked out for you, but these things can’t always be solved. I was in London, England a couple of years back when my credit card got hacked. Fortunately I had another card with me plus a fair amount of cash, and I’d prepaid the hostel. Had I possessed just one card and didn’t have enough British pounds to get fed and get myself back to the airport, I might have been in a pickle.
      Again: Having more than one payment method reduces the odds of your having to call someone to ask for money. Or to sound like that “I got mugged while traveling so please wire me some cash” scam.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. Personally, I have an OVERABUNDANCE of credit cars. Late DH was in sales so his cards ere generally reserved for reimbursable expenses. I had different ones I used for my purchases and household stuff.

    I also have ATM cards for several banks. One is a generally low balance bank so it is what I use most Don’t want some hacker getting into my bank that gets my auto deposits (pension & soc) or the one I transfer to for BIG annual & semi-annual expenses.

  3. Caroline Kipps

    This is such good advice. We have had three episodes of our cards being compromised just this year. And I am one of those potential Target customers, having paid for a prescription with a card in the last three weeks. We have our Upromise card as our main card for college savings and a backup card for miles. I agree with savvy card use, but I, too, wouldn’t want to be stuck somewhere with only one hacked card in hand.

  4. Carolina Cooper

    What about having one credit card and one debit card? Couldn’t that work the same as having a 2nd credit card?

    • Donna Freedman

      Possibly, if all you needed was to cover a few expenses until your new credit card was shipped to you. But again, if you’re on the road you may find yourself in a pickle. If you use debit to rent a car they place a “hold” of $200 to $500 on the card in addition to the cost of the rental. “These holds can tie up your money, leaving you without access to that portion of your account for 24 hours to as much as 14 days,” according to this article on Creditcards.com:
      In addition, the agency may run a credit check (!) on you and/or require you to bring a recent utility bill, proof of auto insurance and a return plane ticket or itinerary, and/or refuse to rent to you if you live in the same state. Who knew it was such a hassle???
      Hotels also place holds on your card. In both cases, the hold means that for up to two weeks you have a lot less money available to spend.
      Annoying, isn’t it?

  5. That is some bad luck. I’ve never had a credit card compromised except when my physical credit card was actually stolen. I do have several credit cards since I get different rewards from different cards. I guess they serve as backup as well if I ever do have a credit card compromised.

    • Donna Freedman

      Credit card fraud is a growth industry. A friend of mine has had three cards hacked in the past year. One of those could have been an issuer data breach (Bank of America Alaska Airlines) because both my and DF’s cards were also compromised. Two of my four that have been stolen in the past month were from the Chase; since they were hacked at the same time, I’m assuming data breach as well.
      My multiple cards serve as backup for one another. It’s certainly been useful in the past month. Sigh.

      • I’m with Andy. I have multiple cards as in 8 or 9. One is our main, one is for gas only, one is for Victoria Secrets for free drawers, we have a Menards card for home repairs, an airline card for cheap/free flights and a few others that we rarely use. I won’t use a card if I’m not getting something from it. We never carry a balance so we win every time we use it. I want a T-shirt that says, “I work the system.” But I wouldn’t buy it if I didn’t get a discount and I would use a rewards card.

  6. I don’t know anyone in Ireland who possesses more than one credit card and many people just use a debit card. The vast majority of credit cards used are visa. I find(and have have my card hacked on four occasions) one credit and one debit card more than enough. We have to pay an annual credit card tax of €40(about $50). I can always transfer savings into my current account online if I were to have an emergency and needed to use my debit card for unexpected charges. Enjoy Christmas with your daughter and son in law.

  7. Ash
    European credit cards are physically VERY different from US ones-not sure about Canada. They have an embeded chip NOT the magnetic stripe w/ALL the info needed to ake a copy/use it online.

    • It is true that we don’t have a magnetic strip any more and also no longer sign but use a pin number when making purchases. We are insured though against fraud etc.

  8. Sound advice…and sad to hear about the breach. I have noticed ALL of our CC companies are very vigilante when it comes to unusual purchases. We get a call and/or an email asking us if we authorize the purchase. This must be a real nightmare for Visa and the like as CC holders are only responsible for the first $50….

  9. In lieu of credit cards, what other options are available? I’m going through a divorce and a home foreclosure and am trying to stay afloat financially while I put my life back together. I make a decent income, but I can’t rely on cash.

    I use my debit card too much which I know is a bad option altogether, but I’m not sure what else I can do. I’ve thought about using a combination of PayPal and prepaid cards for online and travel expenses, but I’m not sure if that will work.

    Any suggestions?


    • Donna Freedman

      Are you philosophically opposed to credit cards, or just worried that you might overuse one if you got it? (When your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails.)
      The trouble with prepaid cards is that you have to pay fees. If you feel that’s preferable to maybe overusing a credit card, go to BestPrepaidDebitCards.com and look for models that will serve you best while costing you the least.
      If you want a credit card, look for one with no fees and decent rewards. Lenders have begun giving cards more freely again, although if you’re in a foreclosure situation you might not qualify.
      Or go to a credit union and ask about a secured credit card. You put money into an account and can use the credit card for up to that amount. This assumes you have a few hundred to set aside and not touch, which might not be possible right now. If you can swing it, however, and make your payments promptly the credit union may issue you a regular credit card with a set limit — this would allow you to cover true emergencies (e.g., car repair) but keep you from running up many thousands of dollars’ worth of debt unnecessarily (see “hammer…nails,” above).
      Finally: You’ve probably heard this before, but I’ll say it anyway — track your spending tighten your budget, spend only on absolute necessities. A free budgeting program like PowerWallet will show you where your money goes and also offer information on better interest rates and coupons that will save you money.
      What’s likely is that you are already running on empty. But sometimes a fresh set of eyes (even electronic ones) on your finances can reveal a few places to nip and tuck.
      None of this is easy. I hope that 2014 is a better year financially for you (and for us all). Good luck.

  10. One of my cards was breached as well. Thankfully they new I typically don’t spend that amount at the place that was charged and took the amount off and issued a new card. I sure would have been more miffed if I did not have my backup card and that they worked with me.

  11. I have a few credit cards too many and was thinking of closing all except one. Perhaps I’ll hang on to the three major cards and close the store cards.

    • Donna Freedman

      I think that’s a good idea. Make sure you don’t carry all three of them at the same time, in case you get pickpocketed. One woman I interviewed had her purse on the seat at a lunch date with friends. She doesn’t know if the card fell out of her bag or was sneaked out of it by a passerby, but the bastards had a really good shopping trip at Target that afternoon.

  12. As a banker, I deal with multiple ways that my clients’ accounts and cards have been compromised. I recommend that you place a “freeze” on your credit with each of the 3 credit bureaus. This prevents new lines of credit, including credit cards and loans, from being opened in your name. Even you won’t be able to open a new card/loan without first contacting the credit bureaus to temporarily lift the freeze. This service is free with each bureau. This action works very well. I’ve used it for several years and recommend this action to all of my clients.

  13. With so many here commenting about credit/debit cards being comprimised I am glad that I use cash as much as possible. I never activated my currant debit card. I just leave a small amount of “emergency” cash at work, hidden in my car and at home, then I only carry forty bucks at a time on my person unless I know I will need more, than I go to the bank.

    • Donna Freedman

      I use the cards for the rewards. Their being compromised is a pain in the neck, but it doesn’t cost me anything as such — whereas not having the rewards programs would be a bummer.
      That said, I’m glad I brought extra cash for the trip.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  14. More credit cards may actually improve your credit score.


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