Q&A: What's the safest way to pay a bill online while traveling?

Two children playing in pool while parents are paying hotel bill online.

A virtual private network can help you pay bills securely when traveling. Plus, you have other fairly safe ways to pay that bill — even if you don't have a VPN.

Question: Oh, no, I forgot to pay a bill before taking off on my trip. What’s the safest way for me to access an account with sensitive personal information while traveling?

Answer: It's easy to forget to pay a bill while you're scrambling to get out the door, and no one wants to get hit with a late fee after a trip.

Fortunately, there are a few fairly safe ways to pay that bill — even if you don't have a virtual private network (VPN):

  1. Use a secure Wi-Fi network. Are you staying with a friend or relative with a secure Wi-Fi network protected by a strong password? Use their Wi-Fi to connect and pay online.
  2. Pay by phone. You can go "old school" and pay by phone. Use a credit card, rather than a debit card if you can. Credit cards have fraud protections and don't offer direct access to your money.
  3. Use your smartphone. You can turn off Wi-Fi and use your data plan to log into your account on your phone to pay the bill. Or, use your phone's Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to the internet using your laptop or tablet.

These options aren't perfect, but they're safer than using public Wi-Fi. For added security, make sure you set up two-factor authentication on your account, so a thief can't access it with your password alone. And change your account passwords when you get back home.

If you don't feel 100 percent safe, you could call the company, ask them to waive your late fee, and pay when you get home.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about bill paying  

Still have questions about paying bills online and keeping your money safe while traveling? Here's help: 

What is the best way to pay your bills each month? 

The best way to pay your bills each month is to use a credit card that you pay off in full each month. Credit cards offer convenience, rewards, and robust consumer  protections. For example, most credit cards have zero liability for fraud or unauthorized purchases, meaning you pay nothing out of pocket. And U.S. federal law caps your  liability at $50. If you have credit problems or trouble paying your credit card in full  each month, your bank's online bill pay service offers another good way to pay your  bills securely.

How do you pay bills when traveling?

You can pay bills online while traveling if you have access to a secure Wi-Fi network,  such as at a friend or relative's home. You can also pay bills securely by phone with a  credit card while traveling. Finally, you can pay online using your data on your mobile  phone rather than Wi-Fi to connect to the internet.

How can you pay bills online with your bank account?

There are two ways you can use your bank account to pay bills online: by using your  bank's online bill pay service or by setting up an agreement with a service provider to  allow them to withdraw money from your bank account. It's generally safer to use your bank's online bill pay because you have more control over the payment process. You  set the amount and date of payment rather than allowing the service provider to take  the money from your bank account on their terms.

Is it safer to pay bills by phone or online?

If you have access to a secure Wi-Fi network, it may be slightly safer to pay bills online.  When you pay by phone, you usually have to provide an agent with information such  as your name, your credit card number and the secure code on your card. You can  make paying by phone safer by making sure you call to the correct number to initiate  the payment, use a credit card rather than a debit card, and double check the amount  of the payment. Finally, log into your credit card account to make sure the payment  went through correctly.

What is the most secure way to pay bills?

The most secure way to pay bills is to pay online using a secure Wi-Fi network and a  credit card. You're protected by the encryption and strong password on your network  as well as by all the consumer protections available on a credit card. If you want an  extra layer of security, consider using a virtual credit card number. This is a unique  credit card number that is linked to your credit card but can only be used once or for a  certain amount. Contact your credit card issuer to ask how to get a virtual card  number.

Where can I hide large amounts of cash?

Your bank is the only truly secure place to keep large amounts of cash. However, if you  want to keep an emergency stash of cash at home, consider getting a fireproof,  waterproof safe. There are plenty of clever ideas on where to hide money at home,  from inside a toilet paper roll to in a fake mayo jar in the fridge to under a stair tread,  but use these ideas at your own risk.

Where do you hide money while traveling?

When you're traveling, it's best to use a credit card as much as possible and make  regular stops at an ATM to withdraw only the amount of cash you need for a day or  two at most. That way you can minimize your losses if you accidentally leave your bag  on the subway or get your wallet stolen. While you're out and about, consider using a  money belt that looks like a real belt or keeping a few small bills in your wallet and  stashing the rest of your cash in a safe spot such as an interior coat packet that zips. 

Is it safe to pay bills on an iPhone or Android?

You can pay bills online safely on your smartphone by making sure you're not  connected to Wi-Fi and instead using your cell data to connect to the internet. This  allows you to pay by phone safely when you're out and about and don't have access to a secure Wi-Fi network.

Is it safe to pay bills online with Wi-Fi?

It's safe to pay bills online with Wi-Fi as long as you use a secure Wi-Fi network that  uses the latest encryption technology and is protected by a strong password. Never  pay your bills from public Wi-Fi such as the Wi-Fi you can access from an airport, a  coffee shop, or hotel. This type of network can leave you vulnerable to hackers who  could steal your financial information.

What is the safest method of payment for paying bills?

The safest method of payment for paying bills is to use a credit card. That's because a  credit card number does not give anyone a way to get access to your cash. With a  credit card number, they can make a charge on your account. But credit cards offer  strong protections from fraud and unauthorized charges.

What is the least secure form of payment for paying bills?

Your debit card is the least secure form of payment for paying bills. Debit cards allow  direct access to the funds in your bank account and offer fewer protections from fraud  and unauthorized charges compared with credit cards. If a fraudster does steal money  from your account, you may have to jump through hoops and wait weeks or longer to  get your cash back while the bank investigates. Paper checks are also a less secure  method of payment since they contain your bank account number and other private  information.

The freedom to connect more securely to Wi-Fi anywhere

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Allie Johnson
  • Allie Johnson
  • Freelance Writer
Allie Johnson is a freelance journalist who covers cybersecurity, privacy, and consumer topics. She has written for Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Discover.

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