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How to Keep Your Credit Card From Becoming Totally Useless

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Whether you’re grabbing a morning latte or buying souvenirs on vacation, you expect your credit card to work when you hand it to the cashier. But if there’s a hold on your card, that won’t happen. Credit card companies may put a hold on your account when they see suspicious activity in order to protect their assets and yours.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but to help prevent it from happening to you, follow these guidelines.

1. Notify Issuers of Time Away

If you’re going out of town, whether for business or pleasure, it’s a good idea to notify your bank and card issuer. That way they can make a note not to flag charges in a different location.

“We recommend that customers alert us about plans to travel,” Betty Riess, Bank of America’s Consumer Banking Products representative, said via email, “So we take that into account when monitoring for potential fraud. Customers can set travel alerts via mobile or online, as well as by calling us.”

You may also consider taking two different credit cards to avoid holds for large purchases made close together, such as renting a car and booking a hotel room. By putting those items on different cards, you’ll reduce any risk of trouble using your card.

2. Alert Issuers Before Major Purchases

If you typically use your charge card for smaller purchases, like groceries and occasional shopping sprees, issuers see this as part of your spending pattern. If you break that pattern and purchase a few larger items at once, such as a new entertainment center, this will look suspicious and may cause a hold to be placed on your card. If you know you’re about to make a large purchase, try to notify your lender ahead of time.

3. Pay Your Balances on Time

It’s a good idea to pay off your card each month so you don’t get hit with overage fees and interest charges. You should at least pay the minimum each month, and do so on time. If you’ve fallen behind on payments, issuers will generally cut you off until you catch up. (Repeatedly missing payments can hurt your credit score; read this guide to learn more.)

4. Watch Your Spending

Your credit card limit is the maximum you can put on the card. Experts recommend keeping your balance below 30% (and ideally 10%) of your available credit limit so you don’t exceed it, as this could not only put a hold on your card but hurt your credit score. (To see how your spending is affecting your credit, view your free credit scores, updated monthly, on Credit.com.)

5. Use Tech to Your Advantage

If your credit issuer offers it, subscribe to receive text notifications on your phone or tablet. “This way, whether there is a hold on your account from paying for your gas or because of suspicious activity, you’ll be notified and can clear up the problem right away,” Ashley Tufts, Corporate Affairs and Communications Director at American Express, said via email. “We trigger fraud alerts to our card members through instant emails, text messages and mobile notifications.”

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