(This is part of a series introducing the new personal finance guide for missionaries: Money for Missionaries: A Personal Finance Primer for Missionaries, aka M4M, now available from Amazon.)
Why would you want a credit card?!
I know some of you are having a heart attack because I am suggesting that Christian missionaries should have a credit card. Indeed, there are even some credit cards that are better than others!
In general, I agree with Dave Ramsey and his principles for personal finance. One of his key tenets is that you should not go into debt, and using a credit card is doing just that, even if it is for just 30 days.
(To get a great debit card with rewards, check out PerkStreet.)
I agree that there are real problems with credit cards. However, if you are a missionary, there are some good reasons you should have a credit card.
You are a missionary in a politically unstable and relatively remote part of the world. There is civil unrest that makes life very dangerous for foreigners. You consider that it is time to get you and your family out of dodge, so to speak.
When you are buying your plane tickets to get your family out of this dangerous situation, a few things can go wrong.
- Your debit card could be rejected. “Do you have another card, sir?” (Debit cards are much less common overseas – or it could just be a fluke.)
- Because of Murphy’s Law, one credit card is rejected. Do you have another one to try?
- You don’t have enough cash on hand, and the bank will take too long.
This scenario may sound crazy, but missionaries who have been caught up in these types of situations probably did not expect it beforehand!
Or, consider a medical emergency. Can you get your loved one to a specialized medical facility and guarantee payment for treatment?
You had better have multiple methods of payment available.
You need two credit cards.
In short, as a missionary overseas, you should have two credit cards. You don’t do this for the perks. You do it as a means of insurance so that you have an acceptable form of payment in case of emergency.
Accordingly, here are some guidelines for what types of credit cards you should have:
- No annual fee.
- One Visa, one Mastercard. (No AmEx of Diners. They are not as commonly accepted overseas.)
- No foreign transaction fees.
- No store credit cards. (They have too many “gotchas”.)
Remember, you aren’t doing this for the perks. You are doing it as a form of insurance.
Risking being in bondage to a credit card company via debt is not as bad as being in bondage to some corrupt and despotic regime you are stuck in because you didn’t have a method of payment to get you out fast enough.
At the time of this writing here are the best options available (NOT affiliate links):
- VentureOne Rewards Visa (There is also the same card with more perks but also with an annual fee.)
- Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers Mastercard.
- Nerdwallet has a long list of credit cards with no foreign transaction fee. (It’s kept updated pretty well.)
Special steps to take as a missionary with a credit card.
You have to keep your credit card accounts healthy. By that I don’t mean spend a lot of money with them. Remember, they are your insurance policy that you can use to get yourself out of an emergency.
I mean that your credit card accounts need to be active and fraud-free.
Make regular payments with your card.
Credit card companies will shut down accounts that show significant periods of inactivity. That is, if you keep a credit card in your wallet and don’t use it until an emergency pops up two years in the future only to discover that it was cancelled a year ago, then your insurance did you no good.
The easiest way to make sure your credit cards are not shut down is to make an automatic monthly or quarterly payment with the card. This can be a charitable gift or some kind of subscription service fee. Then, set up your online checking account to pay the credit card regularly. This ensures that the credit card is used enough to remain active, and it also ensures that the card remains paid up.
Note: you can also have your credit card regularly make a payment via paypal to a charity or subscription. Just be sure to have the card automatically paid off as well.
Have a billing address in your passport country.
As a missionary overseas, you should have a power of attorney in your home country who handles any financial matters as necessary. (See M4M for more on having a power of attorney.)
The billing address for your credit card should be the one agreed upon with your power of attorney. This is necessary when the credit card issues a new card to you.
Set up the credit card account so that you can access it online, and make sure that you only receive statements online and that they don’t mail you any statements.
Call the credit card company to let them know that you will be overseas quite a bit over the next several years. You don’t have to tell them you will be living in a certain place for a few years. You never know – you may need the card in an emergency that you didn’t expect to find yourself in. They should put a note in your file so that a charge isn’t rejected simply because it’s from a weird place overseas.
Since you set up your credit card account online, monitor its activity from time to time. If you only use the card in emergencies other than the regularly scheduled transaction, it should be easy to spot fraud. Online it is easy to click on a transaction and dispute it.
Also, be sure to check your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. (NOT freecreditreport.com – which really isn’t free!)
This will alert you to any fishy accounts that were opened using your personal info.
May you never need the credit cards for an emergency.
It may seem paranoid and extreme to carry two credit cards. However, there is very little downside, and it could conceivably save your butt big time.
In an emergency when money is needed, it’s better to have too much than not enough.
Be sure you have enough in the form of multiple methods of payment.
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