If you’re like many Americans you’ve had to shelve your vacation plans for a couple of years until your financial situation improves. But now you can wait no longer. The beaches are calling and the kids are growing tired of family day trips.

The only problem is you’re a few thousand dollars short. So here’s a plan that include ways to save on your vacation along with the best ways to save for your vacation travel.

Ways to Save on Your Vacation

Set reasonable goals. The first thing to understand is that there are no unreasonable vacation goals; just unreasonable time horizons. If you want to take the family on a dream vacation with only three months to plan everyone could be in for a big disappointment. Set your goals, but then set a reasonable timeline to allow time to save without making the family miserable in the meantime.

Travel off-season. There’s no reason why you can’t have a dream vacation without having to drive yourself to the poorhouse; just be smart about it. For instance, you can pick an off-season date to travel (i.e., the Caribbean in winter or Europe in the summer). You should also be flexible with your flights. Plan on midweek travel and book flights with multiple stops. Monitor ticket prices on Kayak.com.

Get creative with your destinations. While everyone and their uncle is spending top dollar in Costa Rica, you could be having just as much fun in Guatemala at half the cost.

Stay away from hotel chains. Family-run hotels and guesthouses offer more local flair at a fraction of the cost; or, consider an apartment rental which charge by the week. If you insist on staying in a hotel be sure to check out what other prices people have paid by going to BetterBidding.com and then make a competitive bid at Priceline.com.

Ways to Save for Your Vacation Travel

Smooth out your consumption. What enjoyments can you do without now to ensure you have more enjoyments on your vacation? All of the money you’re currently spending on entertainment, dining out, day trips, etc, could be plowed into your vacation fund. That could hundreds of dollars a month.
• Enlist the kids. It’s definitely more fun to cut corners when you have the kids on board. Enlist them to find ways to save on expenses and put them in charge of tracking the savings goal. Creating one of those thermometer graphs is a fun way to keep them proactively involved.

Have a yard sale (or two). Your junk is someone’s treasure, so make it available through a yard sale. Make sure to advertise it well (Craigslist, posters, classified ad) and have everything priced and ready to go by 7 a.m. Have your kids manage a separate station for their toys, books, videos and clothes – they’ll turn out to be your best business partners.

Get your tax refund each month. Many people are love it when they get their refund check each year. Don’t be those people. Get your refund throughout the year by adjusting your tax withholding from your paycheck. Stick in the savings fund so it can work for you and not Uncle Sam.

Earn rewards for everyday spending. The top credit card rewards programs can generate significant cash back or travel rewards when you use the credit card for everyday purchases throughout the year. Most offer big sign-up bonuses (30,000 points, etc) that can put you real close to your first airline ticket. Some, like the Chase Ultimate Rewards card allow you to accumulate points on all purchases and then transfer them to your favorite airline rewards program. Just don’t have your credit card work against you by accumulating balances and interest charges.

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Tax Planning Tips for 2013

On February 11, 2013, in Financial Articles, by admin

After all of the hullabaloo over the Fiscal Cliff deal, the tax picture remains relatively static for 98 percent of taxpayers. Those making over $450,000 ($400,000 for single filers), will be hit with a higher tax rate among some other tax hikes to investment income.

If you fall into that category, you probably have an accountant. If not you should get one. For the 98 percent, you can either use and accountant or you can use one of the online tax preparation programs like TurboTax. As always, you should begin your tax planning now for the year ahead, so we offer these tax planning tips for 2013.

Tax Planning is a Year-Round Process

 Tax Planning Tips for 2013 Tax planning is not just for high income earners, nor is something that should be done one day a year, on April 14th and then forgotten for the next 364 days. All income earners can benefit from the many provisions in the Internal Revenue Code that allow for ways to minimize taxes, but it does require a little bit of knowledge of the code and a year round approach to planning.

Get Organized Now

The best place to begin your tax planning is when you file your current tax return. You will have spent hours gathering documents, receipts, cancelled checks, and tax forms to compile your return.

Why not take a couple of extra hours and organize everything into folders and accordion files so that, over the next year, you can simply add and organize tax related documents and receipts as you receive them. Your accordion file, with tabs for business expenses, charitable contributions, child care expenses, receipts, education expenses, medical expenses, etc. should be accessible for easy filing.

Adjust Your Withholding

Next, after marveling at the big refund you managed to generate on your return, check your W-4 form with your employer to see how you can start paying yourself more each paycheck. Why let the government keep your money all year, interest free, when you can have it right now? With each, change in income, or additional deductible expense, you should review your W-4 exemptions to ensure the IRS is withholding the bare minimum. Refunds may seem like a good thing but they are usually a result of bad planning.

Not all Income is Taxed the Same

Knowing how your income is taxed can go a long way to minimizing your tax bite. Most people look at the bottom line of their tax bill and assume that all of their income is taxed at the same rate. But, it’s not. The first dollar you earn in the year is taxed at the lowest tax rate of 10% while the last dollar you earn is taxed at a higher rate (as high as 35% depending on your total earnings).

This becomes important when you are anticipating a jump in earnings that can push you into a higher bracket throughout the year. For instance, an increase of $1 on a salary of $83,600 would move you from the 25% bracket into the 28% bracket.

There are some moves you can make to keep your tax rate low, such as deferring a salary increase into the next year, or increasing your 401(k) contribution at the time of your salary increase, or making a larger contribution to a charity.

Eliminate Red Flags to Keep Auditors Away

No one knows for certain the precise criteria that the IRS uses to select tax returns for audits, but the collective experience of tax professionals has pinpointed those that are almost certain to raise red flags.

• Income numbers that don’t exactly match your W-2 or 1099s – including income from sales proceeds and debt cancellation.
• Not reporting all of your interest and dividend income. This income is reported to the IRS on form 1098 by the financial institutions and you should also receive a copy. Make sure you have received a 1098 for each of your accounts that pays interest or dividends.

• Major changes in status or reporting from year to the next – especially in reported charitable contribution or any large itemized deduction, such as for a home office. If you have complete documentation of these items, the auditor will likely leave you alone.

• Math errors – the most common auditing trigger. File electronically and you will reduce your chances of a math error by 80%.

Your Biggest Tax Planning Tip

With the advent of online banking you can more easily compile all of your financial information and generate instant tax returns in a fraction of the time. Most banks offer online banking that allows you to upload your information to financial management software like Quicken. There it is easily sorted into customized income and spending categories. Once there, it can then be uploaded into an online tax preparation programs such as Turbo Tax.

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  Top Areas to Cut Expenses When Reviewing Your Personal Budget Who said your life style choices have to be limited by the size of your paycheck? While you may not have any control over the size of your paycheck, with some foresight and creativity, you can most definitely squeeze some more life out of it. By some simple budgeting techniques when reviewing your personal expense you can cut expenses and still live large. You just have to know where to look.

Top Areas to Cut Expenses (with estimated monthly savings)

Landline phone service: With VOIP technology you don’t need to pay outrageous fees for landline phone service. Services like Ooma are free using your broadband Internet connection when you buy a device for about $150. Savings: $50 – 70 after paying for the device.

Cell phone service: For about $40 per month you can sign up (no contract) for a prepaid cell phone service. These plans also offer unlimited text and data for another $35. Virgin Mobileand Republic Wireless both receive pretty good reviews. Savings: $50 – $100

Auto and homeowners insurance: Auto and homeowners insurance has become commoditized and it’s not uncommon to be able to shop your policies around every year or two and realize 10 to 20 percent savings.

Cable TV: Unless you are a sports fanatic, you may be surprised how easy it is to do without premium cable channels. The bottom line is that they overcharge for the actual value you receive. Instead, you could tap into one of many free video streaming services like Hulu, or use a software program such as Playon to stream movies and TV shows through your Xbox or Playstation. If you don’t have these game consoles, you can spend a little on a device like Roku. Savings: $50 – $100

Internet: Like cable services you can shop around to find better Internet deals. Or, you could check out some free 4G Internet services offered such as FreedomPop or NetZero. These plans give you up to 1GB for free and then it’s only $10 per month after that. Their 4G services aren’t available everywhere. Savings: $40 – $80

Dining out with friend: Why dine out? Potluck and BYOB get togethers are becoming more fashionable and enjoyable. Savings: $50 to $150

Dining out with family: Use Restaurant.com certificates. Look for them when they go on sale for $4 for a $25 certificate. Savings: $50 to $100

Shopping: Never pay retail again. If you don’t want to pay a membership to a big box store, your best bet to save a bundle is to shop online. Amazon.com offers the best prices by far across the board and when you spend more than $25 you can qualify for free shipping. Otherwise, use Google Shopping to find the best prices at nearby stores. Savings: $100 to $200

Grocery shopping: Buy generic. You can save as much as 50 percent off of brand name prices. A box of toasted oats (generic Cheerios) costs around $2 versus $4 for the real thing. The key to saving money on groceries is to always use and stick to a list.

That’s more than $500 in potentially monthly savings that could be put towards savings or paying down debt. What are you waiting for? Start cutting.

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Credit cards have come under attack from several vantage points. Expoding credit card debt was a contributing factor in the economic decline, and increasing fees have added to the cost of carrying credit cards making them highly questionable as a practical alternative to cash and other forms of payment.

Yet, the debate continues as to whether credit cards are, in fact, the best way to pay for things considering the many benefits they offer consumers. Should you pay for everything with your credit card? That largely depends on a number of factors, the biggest of which is how well you handle them.

Unquestionably, credit cards pose a risk for people who have difficulty managing their credit, or who still carry too much debt. Impulse shoppers should also avoid carrying credit cards, or they should at least minimize the number of cards they carry.

The risk for most people is that credit cards, being so convenient, can easily drive them to spend more than they otherwise would if they just carried cash. These are all individual issues that should be honestly and thoroughly examined in order to determine whether using credit cards at any level makes sound financial sense.

With the reasons why shouldn’t use credit cards to pay for everything out of the way, here are the reasons why you may want to consider using them in nearly all payment situations:

Manage Your Money like a Pro

  Should You Pay For Everything With Your Credit Card? Utilizing credit card accounts, it is far easier to track, monitor and manage your spending. Being able to access your spending history in near real time online provides a tremendous advantage in daily cash flow management. Some credit card accounts also provide intricate spending reports broken down by category and timelines. So, if you are able to limit your credit card use to your budgeted spending, there is no better way to stay in control of your finances.

Increased Consumer Protection

Credit cards issued as Visa, MasterCard or American Express cards include many consumer protection benefits. Chief among the advantages are extended warranties which can be especially useful for purchases of electronics, appliances and big ticket items.

Some credit cards also offer a return guarantee which protects consumers in the event a merchant is reluctant to accept a return. Also it is becoming rare, purchase protection can ensure that you always pay the lowest price for an item.

Credit card users also benefit from fraud and identity theft protection.

Most important, your credit card provider becomes your advocate in any disputes that arise with a merchant. The burden of proof first lies with the merchant, so the credit card issuer will normally credit your account with the disputed amount until the dispute is resolved, at which time, you keep the credit if the merchant is found to be at fault.

The Best Way to Travel

Aside from the fact that it is nearly impossible to travel freely without a credit card, at least for purposes of reserving rooms, air travel and car rentals, credit cards provide essential protection no traveler should be without.

The range of travel benefits found on most credit cards includes quick card replacement (you can’t replace lost cash), lost luggage reimbursement, accident insurance, trip cancellation insurance, and roadside assistance.

Automated Billing

Credit cards can be linked to just about any type of recurring payment account, such as utilities, cell phones and insurance. Try to doing that with a checking account and you could find yourself fighting off bank overdraft fees.

Earn while You Spend

Face it, prices are going up and budgets are getting tight. So anyway you can find to stretch a budget or find some savings is a worthy goal. Credit card issuers have chosen rewards and cash back as the battlefield on which they compete for your business. That means pretty decent rewards and cash back for your everyday purchases which quickly translate into significant savings.

Earning $50 to $250 a month in cash bonuses or rewards for just buying what you normally buy – gas, groceries, clothes, dining out, travel, movies, etc – is a great reason why you should use credit cards to pay for everything you can.

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Vet Bills and Credit Cards

On January 7, 2013, in Credit Card Articles, by admin

There isn’t anything pet owners won’t do for their pets, especially when they’re sick, injured, or worse, they’re lives are threatened. Rushing a sick pet down to the veterinarian’s office is instinctive, but it can also be very expensive. But what pet owner is going to balk at paying a $2,000 surgery bill with their pet lying on the table? So, they whip out their credit card and worry about how they’ll pay their other bills later. Because most pet owners aren’t always prepared for pet emergencies, vet bills and credit cards often go hand-in-hand.

Veternary costs are nearly keeping pace with rising health care costs, and, as veternarian medicine continues to become even more sophisticated, the cost of treatments increases proportionately. Yet, few pet owners are prepared for the sticker shock of services and most won’t encounter it until the situation is the most dire requiring them to pay the bill at a moment of emotional weakness. Because most veternarians no longer offer a payment plans, the credit card becomes the quickest and most convenient payment solution.

Pet owners who think ahead have a few options that can reduce the need for unexpected credit card debt:

Buy pet insurance: For pet owners who only anticipate a regular check up every now and then, pet insurance may seem unnessary. But, the purpose of insurance is to plan for the unexpected, when a pet emergency might occur at the most inconvient time, financially.

Then it can more than pay for itself. Pet inusrance will also cover the cost of routine check ups.
Set up a pet emergency fund: For the cost of dinner out each month, you can build a sizable pet emergency fund over the course of a year.

Get a pet health care credit card: Yep, you can now get a credit card specifically designed for pet care services. Health care credit cards such as CareCredit and Citi Health Card both offer extended interest free terms that can help keep your payment costs low.

Most veterinarians accept one or the other. You need to do your best to pay off the balance before the free interest period expires because the revolving interest rates are higher than your typical credit card.

Seek pet care assistance: For pet owners who qualify based on income, certain non-profit organizations offer financial assistance. Pet owners who do qualify are required to pay a portion that they can afford.

Shop around: The veternary industry is very competitive. Shop your estimate around and you are likely to find veternarians willing to offer lower rates to get your business. Don’t be afraid to negotiate costs.

The best course of action pet owners can take is some combination of the above options. Any one or a combination of them may not be enough to cover a veterinary emergency, which is where your credit card will always come in handy.

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Credit Card Rate Report

On January 2, 2013, in Credit Cards, by admin

Below you will find a credit card rate report. This report displays the average credit card interest rates for the national average, last week and the past 6 months.

It includes credit card rates for such categories as low interest, balance transfer, business, student, cash back, airline, reward, instant approval and bad credit.

It is important to understand the current rates for various categories when applying for credit cards. This is why we are including this rate comparison tool for you.

To educate yourself even further please feel free to read through our Financial Articles or Credit Card specific articles. Thanks for visiting CreditCardSocial.com

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 Learning to Live on One Income so you can enjoy an Early Retirement While it may be too late for those who are near the retirement threshold, younger people in their 40’s and 50’s are still holding out hope that they will be able to retire on time and some are even looking at challenging the “new normal” by targeting an early retirement. Is that even possible anymore? Actually, it’s more possible than most people think, but it will take a deliberate strategy driven by discipline and timely execution. A big part of the strategy is learning to live on one income so you can enjoy and early retirement.

We’ve uncovered four simple tactics for early retirement strategies that anyone can follow:

Scale Back Your Spending Now

If an early retirement is really something you are striving for, then the first step is to determine what your vision of a good life in retirement looks like. With that in mind, you can take gradual steps to reduce your consumption spending now until it begins to resemble the level of spending you will require in retirement, and apply the excess to your savings. For instance, when your children leave the nest, you can begin reallocating those expenses to savings. At some point you need to acknowledge that you no longer have any need to buy more stuff or dine out at fine restaurants and begin consuming as if you were already in retirement. Your goal is to get to the point when you can meet your lifestyle needs on just one income.

Downsize Your Life

It used to be that people would wait until they retire to start downsizing their life. That usually entails swapping your big house for a more cost-effective abode and trading in the gas guzzlers for a less-expensive, fuel efficient car. Why wait? If you start downsizing now, you will pocket significant savings that can be applied to your early retirement and you will be ready well in advance for your transition into retirement. And, when the urge to splurge arises, just ask yourself how much more satisfaction it will bring you now versus your ability to enjoy a good life later.

Convert Equity into Income

If you do trade your $500,000 house for a $250,000 condo as part of your downsizing, the equity can be used to purchase an annuity that can form the guaranteed portion of your lifetime income. Your qualified retirement plan and other investments can still be invested in growth assets that will provide the surplus for really enjoying the good life.

Dust off Your Business Plan

You may be looking forward to breaking free of the employment chains, but, if you’re like many people, you’ve been harboring a desire to start your own business. Maybe you have a hobby that you can monetize, or you have an idea for an online venture. Now is the time to start developing your plan and the earlier you begin to work your plan the further along it will be when you’re ready to retire.

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amazon.com online shopping Why Amazon Dominates Online Shopping Purchases This Year It probably surprises no one that Amazon.com was the most-visited retail site on Black Friday with more than 28 million visits boosting its annual double-digit growth as the dominant online retailer. With Black Friday online sales expected to pass $1 billion for the first time, Amazon dwarfs its closest online competitors, BestBuy, Target, Apple, and yes, even Wal-Mart which came in second this year. Unquestionably, it has been a transformational phenomenum for more than a decade, but people still wonder why Amazon dominates online shopping purchases this year.

Like its brick-and-mortar competitor, Wal-Mart, Amazon, with its innovative founder and CEO at the helm, was presented with the opportunity to redefine retailing in such a way that its competitors never imagined and, therefore, are forever trying to play “catch-up.” In the time it has been way out in front of everyone else, it has built an empire with a wide moat that few, if any retailers can possible cross. It starts with the inherent advantages of its business model – no overhead for physical stores or warehousing. From there, Amazon piles on so many retail innovations, that customers just can’t stop coming back to its sites. Let’s review:

• Amazon sells its Kindle Fire near cost and ships it for free to Prime customers almost ensuring that it will lose money on each sale but also ensuring that they will keep shopping at Amazon.

• Its Prime Accounts continue to grow. Never mind the $79 it brings in from millions of loyal Amazon customers. The premium account almost guarantees increased customer loyalty and increasing revenue per customer. It’s Super Saver free shipping continues to add incremental sales and keep customers shopping.

• Amazon is the largest affiliate wholesaler generating 20% commissions on affiliate sales without lifting a finger. If you’re one of the millions of Internet entrepreneurs you probably sell through Amazon.

• Amazon sells everything. But the real story here is that, it has cracked the Google code so that when anyone searches for anything, Amazon pops up in the first few search results. Once on Amazon, there is no reason to use Google or any other search engine to find any other product or competitor’s product.

• It’s trailing 12 month free cash flow of $1.4 billion means that it will continue to invest in technology and marketing at a pace any of its competition can never possible match.

• Mobile devices accounted for more than 16 percent of Black Friday sales this year, up from 10 percent a year earlier. Amazon, along with eBay is the most visited online retail site for mobile users.

• Amazon was the first to introduce a “price check” mobile phone app allowing shoppers to compare an item’s price found elsewhere with its own.

• Plain and simple, prices on Amazon are generally cheaper than those found on other sites or in brick-and-mortar stores. And, when you can qualify for Super Saving shipping, it’s a no brainer.

Beginning in 2013, Amazon will lose one of its major advantages in some major markets, such as California and Texas. For the first time, shoppers in these markets will be required to pay a state sales tax at checkout. More states will follow suit in 2014. It remains to be seen whether this might put a crimp in Amazon’s dominance. Amazon insists that it won’t, and based on what it has accomplished thus far, we wouldn’t bet against it.

Click Here to Review Kindle Devices! Why Amazon Dominates Online Shopping Purchases This Year

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