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Getting Good Mileage From Travelers Checks

June 1, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ As they get ready for summer getaways in the weeks ahead, many American vacationers will be stocking up on swimming suits, suntan lotion - and travelers checks.

Despite the advent of the credit card and bank teller machine networks, reported sales of travelers checks keep rising steadily, 98 years after an employee of American Express Co. named Marcellus Berry hit on the idea.

American Express, which remains the best-known travelers check purveyor, says its worldwide sales of the checks increased from $13.8 billion in 1983 to $21.1 billion last year.

The Credit Union National Association, a trade group, says its sales of checks to credit unions jumped more than 50 percent in 1988.

CUNA attributes this growth to a booming travel and vacation market at just about all age levels of the population, from the youngest of the baby boomers to the rapidly growing ranks of older Americans.

The appeal of travelers checks, of course, is that they serve as a kind of marked money - nearly as handy as cash, but protected, unlike cash, from the hazards of theft or loss.

In fact, says the CUNA, less than 1 percent of the travelers’ checks that are issued become the subject of refund claims.

Nevertheless, if you are going to take the trouble of getting them for the protection they offer, financial advisers say, it makes sense to handle them properly and wisely.

First of all, they suggest, familiarize yourself beforehand with the procedure for obtaining a refund in the places you plan to visit.

Then, you need a plan for safe, separate storage during the trip of the documents that show what checks you have bought and their serial numbers.

Among the travel safety tips it offers, American Express recommends drawing up in duplicate a list of the travelers checks you will be carrying, along with numbers of such other things as credit cards, passports and insurance policies.

″Keep one copy with you and leave the other at home with a friend or business associate,″ the company says. ″It will speed replacement or recovery in case of theft or loss.″

″Each time you cash a traveler’s check, write down the amount and number of the check, the place you cashed it and the time and date,″ it adds. That way, you will know at any time the amounts and numbers of checks that still may be lost or stolen.

All this may sound like a lot of trouble to take, more than a lot of people would actually bother with. After all, you are going on a vacation, not to an accounting convention.

But the whole idea of travelers checks is security, against loss of your money and against the disruption of your trip.

Few institutions that sell travelers checks charge onerous fees for them. If you’re inclined to shop around, however, you may well find a place where they are available more cheaply.

At the end of a trip, it makes sense to cash in any remaining checks quickly to put the money to use elsewhere.

A few years back, one firm suggested in its advertising that you keep one or two unused checks in your wallet more or less permanently as a sort of emergency reserve.

Whether that appeals to you or not, you should bear in mind that the suggestion does not come fromeen the time you buy a travelers check and the time you spend it.

So hanging on to an old travelers check is pretty much the same thing as putting it into a savings account that pays no interest at all.

End Adv PMs Thursday June 1

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