When it’s time to make your big escape to the beach, the mountains or wherever your travels may take you on that much-needed vacation, the last thing you want to be worrying about is your credit score. However, a few unplanned purchases and shopping trips using your credit cards can be enough to hurt your sound financial planning goals — and even damage your credit.
If you don’t have a great credit score to begin with and are trying to get back on a healthy financial track, there are some ways you can give your credit score a boost during your break from reality. Here are some of the best ways to build credit while vacationing.
1. Use Your Credit Card Whenever Possible — But With Caution
Showing some credit card activity and making your payments on time will boost your credit score and show lenders you’re fully capable of paying your debts on time.
Whether you’re making dinner reservations, paying for theme park tickets or filling up the gas tank for an epic road trip, be sure to charge those travel-related purchases to a card. As long as you’re not going over your credit limit at any given time, you’ll have a full billing cycle to pay off that balance and prove your creditworthiness.
Using your credit card responsibly during your vacation — and beyond — will help you build up your credit score solely based on the rate you accumulate debt and how fast you pay it off. One thing to remember when you’re traveling to a new destination or even overseas: Protect yourself from credit card fraud.
Chip-enabled credit cards now accepted around the globe are helping to combat swipe fraud and unauthorized transactions. However, it’s still a good idea to monitor your transactions and make sure to report any fraudulent charges immediately. This can prevent you from inadvertently going over the limit if a thief were to use your card without your knowledge.
2. Use Mobile Apps to Keep Track of Your Finances
Bank of America’s July 2016 Consumer Spending Snapshot reveals there’s been an increase in airline purchases with debit and credit cards among consumers. This isn’t your license to go crazy with airline and travel purchases — the goal here is still to activate one or two of those cards and then pay off the balance before the due date.
If you have a hard time keeping track of cards, use a mobile app to manage your finances while you’re on the road. Jason Gaughan, credit card executive at Bank of America, reports more Bank of America customers used their mobile devices to pay bills this past summer, “showing you can stay on top of your finances from any beach, museum or park — all while building your credit.”
You can set up mobile payments with tools like Apple Pay and connect your account to your credit card instead of a debit card to make purchases in a few screen taps and swipes. Some credit card companies, like Discover, even reward you for connecting your account and making purchases with Apple Pay. This can help you earn some credit card rewards while building your credit history.
3. Monitor Your Available Credit Using Budgeting Apps
If you’re using multiple credit cards with low credit limits on vacation, you want to avoid going over your limit and paying extra fees. Going over the limit could cost you in the form of extra fees and also put a dent in your credit report since it will hurt your available credit. Consider setting up a credit card budget for yourself using an online app or a simple spreadsheet so you can track every dollar spent on a credit card before you have the chance to pay it off.
You can use simple apps like Dollarbird or Prosper, or pull together your budgeting activities in Mint.com or YNAB. This way, you can keep tabs on all of your expenses and then consolidate everything for one big payoff when you get home.
Another thing to keep track of in your budgeting app: cash back rewards. Some credit card companies allow you to redeem your cash back rewards as statement credits, which you can then use to reduce your account balance. Consider checking your balance every couple of days or every night so you can redeem your cash back rewards as soon as possible.
4. Book Travel and Make Purchases With a Rewards Credit Card
If you’re using a third-party site to book travel and are going through the online checkout process, make sure to use a travel rewards credit card.
“Pay it all off when your bill comes due on return, and your good payment history will translate to a better credit score,” said Rosemarie Clancy of RewardExpert. “And the points and miles you earn on your spending can go towards lowering the cost of your next getaway.”
Remember that some rewards cards offer double points or bonuses on certain purchases for a specific time period as a seasonal offer. Seek out these programs and offers so you can maximize the benefits of every purchase made with that credit card — all while building up your credit.
5. Build Credit With a Secured Rewards Card
If you don’t have a travel rewards card and are trying to establish your credit, you might not have the privilege of charging all your travel-related purchases to a card and cashing in on rewards — unless you have a secured credit card.
Secured credit cards require you to pre-pay for your credit line as a deposit. You can make purchases on that card just like any other credit card and are responsible for making at least the minimum payment by the due date. Positive activity on this account is reported to lenders and helps to build your credit.
Choosing a secured travel rewards card, like the U.S. Bank SKYPASS Visa Secured Credit Card, allows you to earn bonus miles and cash in on other perks with each purchase. You can earn those benefits as long as you keep your account in good standing. When rebuilding and establishing your credit is your goal, you can use this type of card to boost your credit score and get some travel rewards in the process.
6. Set Up Automatic Bill Payments Before You Leave
Unless you pay an entire month or two of bills before your departure, you’ll want to stay on top of paying your bills on time so missed or late payments don’t end up leaving a mark on your credit report.
Equifax reported in 2014 that a single late payment can have an effect on your credit score, whether it be for a mortgage payment, car payment or credit card payment. The impact depends on how recent the late payment is and if this seems to be a recurring problem. If you have a poor credit history today because of a track record of missed payments, you’ll need to be extra vigilant about making those payments on time.
One way to do that: Get in touch with all of your creditors and lenders to set up an automatic payment plan prior to the due date. This way, you won’t even have to log in to your account or make a phone call to authorize the transaction while you’re busy enjoying some sun and sand.