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Credit Card Balance Limits
Contacting the Credit Card Company
Contacting a Friendly Financial Institution
How to Protect Yourself
Walking Around Money


This is a continuing series of articles with a number of "parts."  See Table of Contents and search for "Don't Leave Home Without Them" and "Don't Leave Home Without It"

Introduction: This month we continue our discussion about my wife’s and my five day adventure in an Argentine hospital. For those of you who don’t know, my wife has recovered from her bout with pneumonia.

Last month we discussed the travel insurance that people should purchase and the smart phone and apps people should have with them if they are caught in a medical emergency in a foreign country. This month we focus on the potentially serious money issues in such a situation and how to protect yourself.

Being without access to your money and credit far from home can be terrifying, bringing up thoughts of being unable to afford food or shelter in the foreign country. Add to that your spouse being in the hospital and you being unable to pay for proper medical care for her and that increases the dilemma exponentially.

Most people that I have spoken with about this issue are of the mind that they have credit cards with them on foreign trips and that, therefore, they’re covered. But what if your wife needed an air ambulance to get home. From Argentina this is going to cost a lot. And even with most travel insurance (and health insurance even if it does cover you out of the country) you are going to have to front the money and wait for reimbursement. What is it going to cost----$75,000, $150,000, what? Will your credit card cover that much? (back to top)

Credit Card Balance Limits: A word about credit card balance limits. Some people have reported to me that their card does not have a limit. My research indicates that that is really not true. These people may not have a definite limit but, trust me, the credit card company knows how high they are going to allow these people’s balances to grow before they cut off the credit. I do recall having such a credit card at one time. That company made it clear that if I was going to have a large purchase I should call them first to make sure it was not rejected. I did that on one occasion and they wanted me to fill out another credit application. The moral of the story: everyone has a credit limit on every credit card they may have, they just may not know what it is. And I doubt that even Bill Gates is different. (back to top)

Contacting the Credit Card Company: Knowing that I had a credit limit on my credit card, knowing that my wife might need a medical escort home ($21,000 or so), thinking that I might have to book new air fare (business class so all the equipment could fit), I was worried that I might exceed my credit limit causing my purchase to be rejected. After all the trials, tribulations, and stress that my wife and I had been through, I didn’t want that to occur just as we were about to leave the country. So I contacted my credit card company by phone (at $2/minute) and told the representative my story and that I needed a credit balance increase. He told me it would be 7-10 days for approval. I asked if he had really listened to my story because I needed that approval within the next 1-2 days (when I expected my wife to be discharged from the hospital), not a week or longer. He acknowledged the problem and put me on hold so he could speak to a supervisor. Minute after minute ticked off at my rather high Verizon roaming rate. I finally disconnected and applied to the company by email. Shortly later, an email response came in indicating it would be 7-10 days. I requested that the representative re-read my message and the emergency nature of my request. I again received a response that it would be at least 7 days. I knew I needed to follow a different course to resolve this problem. And you probably will, too. (back to top)

Contacting a Friendly Financial Institution: Due to the time difference, by email, I contacted the financial institution where I do all of my banking. Everyone knows me there. I told them the story and the need. They responded by email “I am so very sorry about [your wife] and do not worry, as we are on the case to ensure you have fund availability... I just wanted you to know right away that it will be fine.” Under the circumstances, that was a real comforting message. After several emails and phone calls (and some serious collaborative problem solving between them and me) we decided to take money from my equity line of credit against our house and deposit it in my checking account so I could access those funds with my debit card. They then, at my request, removed the various fraud protections so that I could use the funds all in one transaction if necessary. (Typically debit cards have transaction limits.) They allowed me to consent to the fraud protection removals by acknowledging their email rather than printing out an agreement, signing, scanning, and sending back. (In a hospital room without a printer or scanner that would have been difficult, at best.) That solved the problem and, as it turns out, my wife only needed a non-medical escort home (i.e me) so we didn’t need the availability of the funds anyway. But knowing the funds were there brought the stress level down from unbelievable to more bearable limits.

Admittedly, I do a lot of business with this bank and am in contact with them several times a month. So they know me and I am important to them. Are you important to your bank? (back to top)

How to Protect Yourself: I like to talk in terms of the “moral of the story;” so what’s the moral here? If you are traveling you probably want to travel with two credit cards that both have high balance limits. The $2000 credit card limit is not going to do you much good. Further, you want a financial institution that will go to the extreme to help you if you need it. If I had $20,000 in this bank and only knew the teller, do you think they would have done what they did? I doubt it. So you want to be important to the institution; knowing the teller is fine, but you want to know people above the teller level. To me, that means that you have enough there to qualify for their private banking service. You don’t necessarily have to have a private banker, although it wouldn’t hurt, but you have to have enough there that they think you are important----and their private banker limit is their indication of how much is required to hit that mark. That means that, everything else being equal (and it rarely is), you want your money at one financial institution, not five. If you can’t make the limit then get to know the branch manager really well. (back to top)

Walking Around Money: And then, too, you’re going to need some serious pocket change while you are in this predicament; I thought about $450 US was a good number. And to a large extent you can use the ATM’s for that. Just know the currency conversion rate and decide how much you want in US currency and how much in the local currency. I had all of mine in US currency. Although I only used about $50 for meals (and the rest by credit card) it made me more comfortable knowing that I had it if I needed it.

Next month we will discuss dealing with the trip insurance and getting reimbursement. (back to top)


This is a continuing series of articles with a number of "parts."  See Table of Contents and search for "Don't Leave Home Without Them" and "Don't Leave Home Without It"

May 7, 2016