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Why you need TWO credit cards

A backup can be a lifesaver in an emergency.

By Donna_Freedman Nov 2, 2009 12:38AM

Recently I treated my daughter and son-in-law to sandwiches (using a coupon, of course). At the register I heard those words no one wants to hear: "I'm sorry, this card was declined."

I responded with the same words all the deadbeats use: "That can't be right. Run it again." 

He did, and it was declined again. Face aflame, I paid with a different card. (Yes, I could have paid cash but I use credit cards for the rewards. And ever since I got out of divorce debt I have paid my balances in full each month.) When I got home I called to ask why my plastic had been declined -- and the answer was also one of those things that no one wants to hear. 

"There's been a breach," the customer service rep said. It seems that a bunch of credit card transaction info had been swiped from a local business. The good news was that no one had used my card. The bad news was that I'd have to wait for a new one.

That's why I think everyone should have two credit cards. Suppose I'd been on vacation and about to rent a car at the airport, only to find that my only card had been canceled?

No, we shouldn't rely on plastic. In a perfect world, we'd never buy more than we could afford to pay for in cash. But credit cards make some things -- renting a car, getting a hotel room -- a lot easier. Some people who've figured out how to play the system can really make credit rewards programs work for them.

Besides, this world ain't perfect. Twice in my life I have had sudden crises regarding seriously ill family members in other states, and had to fly out within hours. On another occasion I became ill while traveling and had to go to the emergency room; after treatment, I needed a place to sleep until my rebooked flight the next afternoon. 

Credit cards helped me handle all three emergencies. Had my card suddenly been canceled, could I have managed? In the first two cases, probably (although the last thing I needed was to waste time with extra planning); in the latter case, maybe not.

Please note: I am not advocating getting a ton of cards and using them with reckless abandon. I just think that you should have more than one option. We can't predict illness or other crises. Or security breaches.

Originally published March 25, 2009
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