In the summer of 2009, I spent six weeks in Fiji working with a nonprofit organization. Between working in villages during the week and frequenting beaches over the weekend, I had the time of my life.
But all the excitement of the trip disappeared when I came home to a nasty surprise: a collection notice. As it turned out, I let a friend borrow my video rental store membership card to rent a game before I left, and he never returned it.
Fortunately, I was able to pay off the debt without hurting my credit, but the process took weeks and involved several discussions with the movie rental store and the collection company. And I wouldn’t expect that to happen every time.
If you’re heading overseas for a while, it’s important to know how to protect your credit while you’re gone.
How to protect your credit while you’re abroad
Roughly 15.4 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2016, according to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research. And if you’re planning a long trip abroad, your absence can put you at risk.
“When a person is traveling, they may not be getting regular delivery of their mail or phone calls that might alert them to a compromised identity,” said Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert. “This means that bill collectors via phone or email may not be able to contact them.”
Here are five ways to make sure you don’t come back home to a credit emergency.
1. Alert your bank and creditors
Your first line of defense is making sure your current accounts don’t get compromised. Call your bank and creditors and let them know you’re going to be away and for how long. Some banks and lenders also allow you to set up a travel alert through your online account.
If you plan to use a debit or credit card while you’re away, let the issuer know where you’ll be. That way, your purchases in the country you’re visiting won’t be flagged as fraud.
2. Set up a fraud alert or freeze on your credit report
Monitoring credit isn’t my idea of a good time, and it definitely isn’t something I want to do while I’m visiting another country. To keep identity thieves from creating new accounts in your name, you have two options: You can set up a fraud alert or place a freeze on your credit report.
An initial fraud alert — which is used if you’re not already a fraud victim — lasts for 90 days. If you’re being deployed with the military, you can even request an active-duty alert, which lasts for one year.
When you or someone else tries to open a credit account, a fraud alert requires that the creditor verifies your identity before approving the application.
Generally, that process involves contacting you at the phone number you provided when you requested the alert. The creditor then runs through a series of identity verification questions, which can include asking about past phone numbers and addresses, an existing monthly payment on another account, or a past or current employer.
Fraud alerts are free, and you have to request one with only one of the bureaus. Once the bureau receives it, the bureau will forward it to the other two.
Credit freezes are more secure, according to Siciliano.
“[A freeze] locks down your credit from new account fraud,” he said. So, it might be a better option if you’re planning to be gone for months at a time.
The main drawback to freezing your credit is that it might not be free, especially if you’re not already a victim of identity theft. What’s more, some states allow the credit bureaus to charge a fee to temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze.
Check the fees for your state to determine if a freeze is worth it.
3. Set your monthly payments on autopay
It can be hard to remember to make all your monthly payments while you’re away. Missing one will not only result in a late payment fee, but it can also damage your credit if it’s more than 30 days late. That’s when the credit bureaus consider a payment late, even if the lender charged you a late fee on the first day.
To avoid this problem, make a list of your recurring monthly payments and set up autopay. And don’t forget recurring charges that happen less frequently, such as car insurance and annual memberships.
4. Protect your mail from fraudsters
Allowing your mail to continue to come can leave it vulnerable to identity thieves. On average, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service arrests around 10,000 suspects per year for mail theft. There are three things you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you:
- Hold it: The United States Postal Service (USPS) allows you to hold your mail for up to 30 days at a time. Once the hold is over, you can choose to receive the held mail at once or pick it up from your local post office.
- Forward it: If you’re going to be gone for longer than 30 days, you can request — online or in person — that your mail be forwarded to a family member or friend. Forwarding times range from 15 days to one year, and the service costs $1.
- Ask for help: If you don’t want to hold or forward your mail, you can ask a family member or friend to pick it up every day and hold it for you until you get back.
Regardless of which option you choose, protecting your mail keeps potentially sensitive information safe.
5. Keep an eye on your accounts
The fastest way to spot account fraud as it’s happening is to check your accounts frequently. “Review your credit card statements monthly and look for unexpected charges,” said Siciliano.
Alternatively, you can ask to receive transaction alerts by email or text. That way, you can keep track of purchases on your account and verify there aren’t any unauthorized ones.
For example, you can set the transaction threshold to $0.00 so every transaction comes through, allowing you to keep track of even small fraudulent purchases.
If you do see something unauthorized, you can quickly call the bank or credit card issuer to report the fraudulent activity.
Preparation brings peace of mind
If you’re preparing for an extended trip abroad, you likely already have a long to-do list. Don’t forget to add figuring out how to protect your credit to that list. If you neglect to do so and become a victim of fraud, it can ruin the trip and cause credit problems that take weeks or months to resolve.
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.97% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.30% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.
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2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate.” Rates listed include a 0.25% EFT discount, for automatic payments made from a checking or savings account. Interest rates as of 11/8/2018. Rates subject to change.
Variable rate options consist of a range from 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term, 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term, 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term, 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.98% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 2.35% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 2.40% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.65% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.90% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term would be from $180.89 to $193.75. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term would be from $139.65 to $146.76. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104.56 to $111.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.77 to $86.78. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.05 to $75.68.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.
All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.28% effective October 10, 2018.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
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