Don’t bring large amounts of cash on your California Vacation


This is one of the most important aspects of planning a trip that I never hear anyone mention: You should NEVER bring large amounts of cash on a road trip in the US. 

Federal Agents can seize your cash without a warrant even if you haven't committed a crime.

It's called a civil forfeiture. US Border patrol, US Customs, state or local police, the DEA, and the FBI can take your cash at any time. It's up to you to go to court and prove that the money is yours and that you obtained it legally. It's a difficult process. And it's time sensitive. In many cases, you have less than a month to prove it. If you don't follow procedure, the government takes the cash and you never get it back. 

Don't Use a Debit Card unless you are at a Bank

Never use a debit card unless you are at a bank.  It can take month to obtain a refund when someone uses your card without your permission. I can't tell you how countless many times Ive heard of cashiers, clerks and waiters stealing debit card numbers. A debit card is very different from credit.  Debit fraud requires a significant amount of proof. The burden is on you. Many debit disputes are unsuccessful. The money is gone. The only safe place to use your debit card is a bank.

Nearly Every Single Business in the US accepts Credit

It's nearly impossible to find a business in the US who won't accept a credit card. I can't remember the last time someone said "cash only" to me. It's been at least 20 years. The only exception I can think of would be for very small purchase amounts less than $5 in a place like a gas station for gum. 

Use a Credit Card

You are far more protected in cases where someone makes an unauthorized charge on your credit card. You can often get a refund to your account within a week of reporting an unauthorized charge. 

I understand that not everyone can get a credit card, but it is quite simply the safest form of payment you can use on a vacation in the US.

You are more protected when you rent a car using your credit card in cases where you decline the coverage offered by the renter. Nearly all US credit card companies offer some form of insurance when renting a car. The insurance won't kick in unless you decline the coverage offered by the rental company. The deposit required for renting a car with credit card is typically lower as well.

Before my first trip to Europe, I read a giant article about avoiding foreign transaction fees. The rate can vary, but most credit card companies charge a foreign transaction fee ranging from 1-5 percent.  $5,000 in expenses on your trip would cost you $50 in fees at a 1 percent rate. In my opinion, the $50 in fees is absolutely worth the peace of mind. With a credit card, you  don't have to worry about losing your cash or having someone steal the information on your debit card and drain your account. Many credit card companies offer cards that waive foreign transaction fees. I used my card for 2 weeks in Europe and I got hit with less than $20 in foreign transaction fees.

 Another reason to use a credit card is to avoid taking cash out the ATM all the time. Those fees can add up. When you make a withdraw from an ATM, you often get hit with multiple hidden fees. At a place like a Las Vegas casino, you might pay as much as $20 for a single ATM withdraw.

Another reason I like using a credit card on my vacation is the promotions. Most companies offer points back for every dollar you spend. My current card had a promotion that offered $200 in credits if you spent $500 in the first 3 months.

Downside of a Credit Card.......

YOU HAVE TO PAY IT OFF WHEN YOU GET BACK. Don't spend more than you can pay off quickly.  Credit card companies offer the promotions so you rack up a bunch of debt and then kill yourself trying to pay it back. If you put $2,000 on a credit card with a 20 percent interest rate and make the minimum payment of $50 a month, you'll be paying off that debt for 6 years and spend an additional $1200 in fees.


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