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8 Credit Card Security Tips You Should Not Miss

8 Credit Card Security Tips You Should Not Miss

Recently, I bought a jacket at Ralph Lauren in New York City (an admittedly extravagant gift to myself for finally finishing my first book). At checkout, the clerk asked me to fill out a contact form. “No thanks,” I said. “I don’t like to give out my email address.”

“We won’t spam you,” he said. “It’s just to notify you when new items become available.”

After I briefly explained how spam works, and that notifying me of the availability of new items not only constitutes spam, but pretty much defines it, the clerk smiled politely and said “no problem.” As he went into the back to run my card, I noticed a second clerk standing nearby. He’d overheard our little back-and-forth and was smiling wryly to himself. Finally, he couldn’t hold it anymore. “You know they can get to you through your credit card anyway, right?”

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This gave me pause. I did know that, didn’t I? I mean, if a business wants to spam me, they can easily figure out my contact info from a purchase I’ve made. And that’s when a second, more insidious thought struck: If it’s that easy to spam someone after they use their credit card, how easy would it be to steal their identity?

When it comes to credit cards, there’s a whole universe of information out there, and much of it consists of black holes. That is to say, most of us simply don’t know what we realistically should or should not be concerned about. Sure, none of us want our identities stolen, our accounts hacked, our emails spammed—but what exactly are the risks and what can we do to mitigate them?

Following are 8 essential security measures we should all be taking with respect to credit cards. These tips will help us avoid spammers and identity thieves alike.

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1. Treat your cards like cash.

Would you hand a bartender a pile of cash and say “I’d like to open a tab?” So why do that with a credit card? We tend to treat cards differently than cash because they’re plastic. And hey, if someone snags your card, what’s the worst that could happen? Well, it’s called identity theft, and it ain’t a walk in the park. To avoid this, start thinking of and treating your credit cards like cash. Don’t leave them lying around or in the hands of strangers. Yes, this makes life slightly more annoying, but just think of how annoying it would be if someone snatched your card and copied or cloned it. Remember, a credit card is like a pile of cash. Treat it as such.

2. Only buy from trusted websites.

Online shopping is all the rave these days, and often times we enter our credit card information without giving it a second thought. That’s basically an identity thief’s wet dream. To keep the wolves at bay, make sure you check for security signs from whatever site you’re shopping from. These include a URL that begins with ‘https’ instead of the standard ‘http.’ That ‘s’ stands for ‘secure,’ which means the site uses encryption code when transmitting data online. Also check the page for a lock symbol or security firm icon from a trusted firm like Verisign or McAfee. Those symbols indicate a secure site.

3. Be careful when you travel.

The universal language isn’t English anymore—it’s code. That means that a hacker can snag your personal information from anywhere in the world. So be sure to be extra cautious when you travel. Only use your card at bank ATMs and trusted retailers. Let your bank know where you’re traveling and what the dates are so they can notify you if there are any suspicious purchases. And always update your antivirus protection if you’re bringing a laptop with you.

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4. Avoid public computers and WiFi.

People love to go online shopping whenever the mood strikes. Sometimes this means shopping on a public computer or open WiFi network. This is extremely dangerous as these platforms are especially vulnerable. So here’s a neat little trick for you: Feel free to browse and comparison shop online when you’re on an open WiFi network, but don’t purchase anything. Wait until you’re on a secure server (your home computer) before making a purchase. This has the doubly-positive effect of helping to curb your impulse-buying habits! As for public computers, never enter credit card information on them. Hackers often install malware onto public computers specifically targeting online shoppers. Plus the computer’s cache can store your personal information, making it easier for someone to steal it.

5. Never save your credit card number.

I know, I know, that whole ‘1-click’ thing makes life super easy. But just think of how easy you’re making the life of a hacker or spam-artist by storing your credit card info on a retailer’s server. Remember that massive customer breach of Target not long ago? Sure, identity thieves can strike anywhere. But storing your information with a retailer is like standing in the middle of a war zone with a giant bullseye painted on your back. Better to take the time to input your card info for each and every purchase (this also helps curb impulse-buying, by the way).

6. Keep your PIN number safe.

This one is obvious, but bears repeating anyway. You should never ever EVER give out your PIN to anyone, ever. Not your parents, not your friends, not your priest or rabbi. Not even if God herself came down from heaven and demanded you hand it over. Sorry God, no exceptions here. The ‘P’ in PIN stands for personal. Make sure to keep it that way.

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7. Be wary at the ATM.

Thieves love to hang out at ATM terminals with devices that can snatch your card info – sometimes electronically. They use counterfeit cards with magnetic strips to clone your information and make fraudulent purchases. So be wary whenever you use ATMs. Always shield your PIN number from view, never accept help from anyone, and if a sketchy dude or dudette is hanging around the ATM machine, it might be best to move on to the next one.

8. Watch out for phishing scams.

A phishing scam is any scam that lures a potential victim into giving away personal information which can then be used to steal their identity. A popular example is the follow-up email from a retailer you recently made a purchase with. If you receive an email claiming there was a problem with your order, and you need to resubmit your credit card info or input the last 4 digits of your Social Security number, a red flag should go up. Any legitimate retailer that needs additional information to complete your order will ask you to return to the site and submit information on an encrypted page (and this information will never be your Social Security number). When in doubt, call the customer service number to speak directly with a representative.

While the whole idea of identity theft may seem scary and invasive, the fact remains that we live in a brave new world when it comes to personal information. More and more of our information is being stored in more and more places around the world, which makes it that much easier for thieves and spammers to acquire it. But don’t be discouraged, and don’t throw in the towel. While you can never completely eliminate the possibility that your information will be stolen, you can reduce the likelihood of such an event occurring. All it takes is a little awareness and a willingness to take the necessary precautions.

Featured photo credit: _Dinkel_ via Flickr via flickr.com

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8 Credit Card Security Tips You Should Not Miss

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

Debt can feel crushing, like a weight that is always weighing you down. Looking at those numbers, it can feel as if you’ll never get out from under it. However, if you really want to learn how to get out of debt, it is possible with a great deal of focus and self-control.

Getting out of debt isn’t impossible. Like any big goal, all that it takes is an action plan to identify where you are and creating a plan to zero out your debt.

Identifying All of Your Debts

The first part of paying off your debt is getting a complete picture of what you owe. When you have everything written out in front of you, it makes it much easier to create an action plan. Depending on how much you owe, it might also help you realize it’s not as bad you might have originally thought.

Here’s how you can get started identifying your debts:

1. Own Your Debt

Before you start identifying all of your debts, take a moment to process that you have debt but want to get out of it.

Forgive yourself for any past mistakes, missed payments, or overspending. It might be painful to accept how much debt you have at first, but you must own it.

2. Make a Debt Tracker

It’s astonishing how few people ever created a tracker to understand their total debts. Most likely, it comes from not wanting to accept the guilt of having debt, but, if avoided, it can make it nearly impossible to get out of debt.

Open up a new Google or Microsoft Excel sheet and list out all of your debts. Start with the name of the creditor, interest rates, total balance, loan term length (if any), and the minimum amount due each payment. This will include student loans, credit cards, and any other type of debt owed.

3. Get Your Debt Number

Once you’ve made your debt tracker and taken the other steps, identify your total payoff number. This is crucial, as you will have a starting point and a clear goal that you are trying to achieve.

Prioritizing Your Debts

All debt is not created equal. It’s imperative to understand that there are different types of debt.

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1. Understand Bad and Good Debts

Bad debts are usually paying for things you want instead of always need. While there might be some emergencies that max out your credit cards, often times it’s excessive spending[1].

There are three main types of bad debt:

  • Credit Card Debt: The average American household owes over $16,000 in credit card debt!
  • Auto Loan Debt: According to CNBC , the average auto loan in the US is $30,032!
  • Consumer Loan Debt: Consumer loan debt isn’t as common as credit card and auto loan debt, but it’s still considered bad as interest rates are usually between 10-28%.

Good debt is identified as investments in your future. Here are three common types of good debt:

  • Student Loan Debt
  • Mortgage Loan
  • Business Loans

2. Decide Which Debt to Pay off First

Once you know each type of debt and their interest rates, you can begin to pay off debt quickly.

Focus on paying off bad debt first, regardless of if it is a credit card or auto loan. Start by paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first.

If you have several credit cards with different interest rates, you want to focus on the one with a higher APR. You will actually save more money by eliminating the card with the highest interest rate.

3. Don’t Pay the Minimum Amount

Paying the minimum amount digs you into a hole as interest rates will offset your payment. Even a small amount more than the minimum can help you pay off debt much faster.

Removing Obstacles to Pay off Debt Quickly

Creating a debt tracker and prioritizing a plan is simple, but avoiding temptation can be difficult.

1. Set a Reminder to Track Your Debt

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” -Peter Drucker

It’s so important to track your debt to ensure that you get it paid off quickly. Similar to working out and measuring your results, you need to track your debt constantly. Start with a weekly reminder, where you sign on and log your updated number. Did you increase, decrease, or stay the same?

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Regularly tracking your student loan balance can be incredibly motivating, as well. You will get a huge confidence boost each time you see your total debt amount decreases.

Set weekly and monthly goals so you can have short term wins and keep the momentum going.

2. Hide Your Credit Cards

If your biggest debt is credit cards, you need to eliminate temptation and remove them from your wallet.

Some people have gone to extreme measures by freezing their credit cards. Why? This would create an ice block around your card, which would require you to chip away at it slowly. This will give you time to think if it’s the best idea to buy that thing you’re about to buy.

3. Automate Everything

Willpower can be a huge downfall to paying off your debt. By automating your bills each month, you will ensure that willpower isn’t involved.

4. Plan Ahead

Getting out of debt will require some sacrifices, but with enough planning, you can make it work.

For example, if you know that you have a friend’s birthday or family dinner coming up, plan ahead for the costs. Whether you need to cut back on spending the week before, pick up a side job, or meet them after dinner, do what is needed.

5. Live Cheaply

The only way to get out of debt is to make some sacrifices on your spending habits. Find ways to save money each month so you can apply that amount to your outstanding debts. Here are some ways to save money each month:

  • Live with roommates
  • Cook dinners and prepare lunches for work instead of eating out
  • Cut cable and choose Netflix or Amazon Prime
  • Take public transit or bike to work

Finding the Lowest Interest Rates

The higher your interest rates, the harder (and longer) it will take you to pay off any debt.

If possible, you want to find ways to lower your interest rates to help get out of debt quickly. Here’s how you can get started:

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1. Maintain a High Credit Score

Your credit score will have a large impact on your ability to refinance your loans and receive a lower interest rate. If you have a low credit score, it’s unlikely you will be able to refinance your loans. Use these credit tips to increase and maintain an excellent score:

  • Never miss a payment
  • Don’t exceed 30% of your credit limit
  • Don’t sign up for more than one card at once
  • Limit hard inquires, like auto-loans and new credit cards
  • Monitor frequently with free credit-tracking software

2. Find Balance Transfer Offers

Start by opening a free account on credit.com. Credit.com offers you the chance to open a free account and see what type of balance transfer offers you can receive. Some of your existing credit cards might already have 0% or lower APR balance transfer offers available.

Contact each of your credit card providers to ask about lowering your rate for a one-time balance transfer offer[2].

If you do take advantage of this option, make sure that you use a balance transfer and not a cash advance. Cash advances have a ton of high interest fees (15-25%, depending on your credit card) and will only compound your debt problem.

How to Get Rid of Debt Forever

Setting up a plan, removing temptations, and getting the lowest interest rates is the first step to get out of debt.

1. Keep Monitoring and Adjusting

Once you have a plan, don’t get comfortable. Track your debt payoff plan and make the necessary adjustments when needed.

Monitor your credit scores with a free site like CreditKarma. The higher your credit score climbs, the more likely you will be to secure a new, lower-interest loan.

2. Earn More Money

There are only so many ways to save money. Instead of clipping another coupon or making sacrifices for your morning coffee, find ways to earn more money!

Think about it…it is much easier to find ways to earn an extra $1,000 per month than find $1,000 to cut from your budget.

Here are some examples of ways to earn more money:

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Talk to Your Boss

Have a conversation with your boss about current salary and/or commission rates. If you’re not satisfied or want a change, don’t be afraid to look around at other positions. Some of them might even have a student loan debt reimbursement plan!

Start a Side Hustle

This could be coaching students on the weekends, driving for Uber, or taking paid online surveys. There are tons of ways to make money outside your 9-5. Now that you have a clear plan to pay off your debts, you’ll be more motivated than ever to figure out creative new ways to earn money.

Build an Online Business

There are so many websites and blogs that earn money from ads, affiliates, and other online products. Find your niche and get started.

3. Celebrate Your Wins

As you progress in your debt payoff journey, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. You need to always reward yourself for the hard work and discipline that is required to get out of debt.

While you shouldn’t celebrate so big that it increases debt, make sure to factor in little rewards to keep you motivated.

4. Set New Financial Goals

Eventually, with a plan and these steps, you can rid yourself of your debt. Once you do, make sure to celebrate your monumental achievement, but don’t stop there.

Now, you can focus on acquiring wealth and increasing your net worth. Set new financial goals so you have a new target to aim toward. Here’s how to set financial goals and actually meet them.

These could be anything now that you are debt free! Think about where you want to travel, buying your first home, or saving for your future retirement. Just like before, make sure that your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.

Conclusion

Congrats, you can now set a plan in motion to finally pay off your debt quickly (and hopefully forever)!

Remember, if you want to get out of debt quickly, it’s not always easy. Just like any big goal, there will be sacrifices, challenges, and problems to overcome.

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Featured photo credit: Pepi Stojanovski via unsplash.com

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