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.
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 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.
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.
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.
So How Can You Get an 800 Credit Score? Well, today we are here to give you some good tips.
You’ve probably heard someone boast about how they have “perfect” credit. That would mean they have a FICO score of 850. In order to have achieved that they would have to have at least five credit card accounts, at least one mortgage or auto loan, 30 years of credit history, 20 years of positive account history, no late payments for the last seven years, and a debt level that doesn’t exceed 35 percent of their total available credit. So, the next time some 30-year old loud mouth tells you he has perfect credit, you’ll know he’s full of it. While having perfect credit is a laudable goal, most people would be ecstatic to be able to cross the 800 score threshold. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s also not that difficult if you know what to do.
Here’s how you can get an 800 credit score:
Never, Ever Miss a Payment
Needless to say, the path to 800 is paved with a continuous string of on time payments. Your payment history comprises a whopping one third of your credit score. Just one missed payment can drop your score by as much as 110 points. The only thing worse than a missed payment, which remains on your credit report for seven years, is a bankruptcy. A late payment, made within 30 days or the creditor’s grace period is recorded as a missed payment.
Maintain a Low Debt-to-Credit Limit Ratio
Credit utilization is the next biggest factor in scoring your credit. The less debt you have in relation to your available credit, the higher your credit score. To keep you score moving higher, it’s recommended that your debt ration be no more than 35 percent; 25 percent is better. To give you an idea of what it will take to get to 800, the average ratio for those who score that high is about 7 percent. This is one reason why you should try to expand your overall credit limit through increases or adding new credit accounts. It’s always recommended that you don’t apply for credit you don’t need, but if credit line increase offer or a 0% balance transfer opportunity comes along, take them up on it.
Diversify Your Credit
Your ability to handle a variety of types of credit is another big scoring factor. An 800 score cannot be achieved with credit cards alone. You will need a good mix of credit, such as credit cards, installment loans, an auto loan or a mortgage. If you’re currently limited in your mix, you might consider going to a bank or credit union and taking out a small, secured personal loan using your savings as collateral, or purchase your next appliance on an installment loan.
Keep Your Accounts Open and Active
People with a lot of credit cards are sometimes tempted to close accounts they don’t use or that have high fees or interest rates. While that may seem the prudent course, it can also hurt your credit score; because it lowers the amount of available credit which could increase your debt-to-credit limit ratio (see credit utilization above). In order to achieve a high credit score, you need to have credit. Not only that, you need credit activity that can be scored each month, so it’s important to use as many of your credit cards as possible. If you assign each credit card a specific spending category, such as groceries, gas or utilities, you’ll be generating credit activity, and with the balance paid in full each month, the activity will be reported positively while not increasing your debt ratio.
Monitor Your Credit
Everyone likes to keep score. At the very least you should avail yourself of your three free credit reports each year to not only check your score, but also to ensure there are no errors. Credit reporting errors occur more frequently than we’d like to think, and any incorrect item – a wrong Social Security number, a misreported payment or credit limit, or a rouge inquiry – could hurt your score. If you are real serious about reaching 800 sooner, you should consider subscribing to a credit monitoring service for about $10 a month.
Give Yourself Some Time
Even if you apply these essential credit building rules, you may not be able to break 800 for a few years. It usually requires at least 10 years of a “perfect” credit history to achieve an 800 score. While it may not actually take that long, you need to give yourself the proper time horizon and know that your score will grow each day. The only thing you have to do is manage the four essential credit building tasks.
The sluggish economy has take the wind out of credit card sales, and, as a result, debit cards have become the vehicle of choice for credit wary consumers. While the use of debit cards has increased due among consumers who ran into credit problems, they have also become a vital tool for people who simply want to change their credit habits and control their debt.
Undoubtedly, debit cards can be effective in keeping people honest with their credit habits; however, consumers may be missing out on some key benefits that credit cards offer when making transactions. The credit cards vs. debit cards debate needs to consider the key differences between the two.
Both types of cards provide some layer of liability protection in case the card is lost or stolen; however credit cards provide added security because of the way the transaction is covered. With a credit card, the transaction is covered by the credit card issuer who pays the merchant directly. In a debit card transaction, the monies are debited directly from your checking account, so, in the event of a dispute or fraud, you could have a difficult time retrieving your money. At the very least, you will be out the money until the problem is resolved. In the case of a credit card, the credit card issuer works to resolve the dispute and you aren’t out any money.
Build Your Credit Score
Debit cards may seem to be the better solution if you are working on controlling your debt and cash flow; however, if you ignore your credit cards, you could be hurting your credit score. With debit cards, nothing is reported to the credit bureaus. Your credit score relies on continuous credit usage to create a payment history. At the very least, you should consider using your credit card to make some regularly budgeted payments each month and then pay the balance in full.
While you can use a debit card to book travel, it can wreak havoc on your checking account. Typically when you rent a car or book a hotel, the merchant will “charge” your account an amount that will hold the car or room. This amount is often in excess of what the actual charge you will pay. So, even before you travel, the money will come out of your checking account. And, when you book air travel, you typically need to pay for a ticket well in advance which means you will lose the use of funds while waiting for your travel date. With a credit card, your checking account isn’t affected, plus you are provided with certain types of travel protections like lost luggage insurance and accident coverage.
When you use a debit card to set up scheduled payments, such as with inusurance payments or an installment loan, it can sometimes create problems when your cash flow becomes tight. The one time your checking balance runs low when a scheduled payment hits will cost you a bank overdraft charge fee, which suddenly increases the cost of your purchase.
It is often recommended that you use a credit card when making a big purchase, especially with such things as electronics. The extended warranties provided with credit cards can provide you with twice the amount of protection of the manufacturer’s warranty.
Cash Back Rewards
Although an increasing number of debit cards are beginning to offer rewards programs, they have yet to match the richness of credit card rewards, especially with cash back rewards. If you can use your rewards credit card responsibly, there are significant savings to be had which can boost your cash flow each month. Just be sure to pay your balance in full each month or you’ll negate the benefits of the rewards.
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.