Kids & Money

Avoiding the credit card hold when traveling

If your college student is thinking about a vacation over the holiday season to the ski slopes, a white-sand beach or the Vegas Strip, he’s probably already thought about plane tickets, hotel reservations and spending money.

But it’s a pretty good bet his to-do list will not include alerting his bank’s credit card department about his travel plans. It’s a simple yet increasingly necessary security step that’s often overlooked, even by experienced travelers.

Unfortunately, failure to make a call or fill out a vacation notification form online could lead to a big surprise, frustration and maybe an embarrassing moment when the plastic payment is rejected. And wouldn’t you know it, it always seems to happen at an inopportune time at a restaurant, souvenir shop or car rental agency .

I recently ran into this problem while on vacation and had to spend some quality time with two bank customer service representatives to get the issue resolved.

It started at a gift shop cash register when I handed the clerk my credit card for a quick swipe and signature. Except the credit card company denied the transaction, not once, but twice.

I immediately called the customer service number on the back of the card and was connected to an agent who asked me a series of identification questions — my date of birth, the last four digits of my Social Security number, the amount of my credit line on the card. I was then transferred to a manager to answer additional security questions.

Mind you, everyone in the store could have evesdropped on the conversation over the 20 minutes it took the bank to verify and approve my transaction.

My frustrating moment aside, what triggers a credit card decline? Security measures differ from bank to bank, but here are some reasons:

• Exceeding your credit limit or missing a card payment.

• Making an international purchase or an online purchase from a foreign company.

• Making a suspicious charge. That could involve shopping in an unusual place, having a high number of transactions in one day, or withdrawing a large sum of money from an ATM, according to the website.

“Holds can even be triggered by certain patterns of purchases that inadvertently mimic those made by real criminals,” said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for

For example, he said, “If you filled up your car with gas, purchased electronics and then decided to spring for a Swiss watch, it is highly likely the last purchase would be denied pending cardholder authorization. It turns out that this is one of many merchant-category purchase patterns with a high likelihood of fraud.”

I don’t know what tripped me up. What I do know is that I’ve avoided problems in the past by notifying my bank in advance of my trip. This time it slipped my mind.

The lesson: Anyone can experience the inconvenience of having a credit card transaction declined, regardless of income level, credit history and credit score. But my guess is that young, relatively new card users are more likely to run into this problem.

Remind your young traveler to add the bank notification to his vacation checklist. Being forewarned is being forearmed.