Topics:Debt Consolidation Debt Payoff Tips Travel Credit and Debt debt settlement debt consolidation raising your credit score post-debt advice debt facts bankruptcy debt effects Getting out of debt debt management budgeting and financial planning credit counseling
Guest Post by Ben Walker Traveling is an excellent way to broaden your horizons, whether it’s exploring a landscape you’re not familiar with or immersing yourself in a new culture. But it can get expensive. According to a 2021 travel trends report from AARP, millennials plan to spend $4,017 on travel for the year, Gen Xers plan to spend $5,028, and baby boomers plan to spend $6,691. These numbers can vary depending on your destination, the number of people traveling, and your length of stay. But after accounting for flights, hotel stays, a rental car, activities, food, and other common travel expenses, you can easily find that your total trip ends up costing thousands of dollars. Do you want to travel but think it might put you into debt? Here are five ways to approach traveling without ending up owing anyone money. 1. Start a travel budget Budgeting is one of the most effective ways to save money for specific financial goals, which could include saving up money for a trip. There are different budgeting techniques, so you should choose the one that works best for your situation. That could mean taking a certain amount of money out of each paycheck or having a goal to hit each month — just use whatever strategy fits your lifestyle and helps you stay motivated. Regardless of the budgeting method, track your total income and expenses. This will give you an overview of your financial situation and pave the way for making smart future decisions. And tracking your finances is easy with certain finance management tools. Once you know the exact amount of money coming in and going out, focus on the areas where you might be able to cut your spending. This can be helpful if you feel like you have no room left in your budget to start setting money aside. But if you have room to cut back on unnecessary spending, you have room to fund your travel savings. To potentially make things easier for yourself, consider setting up automatic transfers from your main bank account to a specific account for your travel budget. 2. Use the right credit cards You might think that using credit cards would result in more travel debt. And in some cases, that could be true. It’s easy to throw all your travel expenses onto a credit card and then worry about paying it off later. But this type of strategy can quickly lead to racking up credit card debt that soon becomes too difficult to manage. If instead you approach credit cards with the mindset that they’re tools to be used for reaching your financial goals, you might be more likely to exercise some caution. This doesn’t mean you can’t use credit cards for all your travel expenses, but you should only do so if you’re planning to pay off your balances each month. Using this method, it makes sense to use the best travel credit cards to fund your travels. You can earn credit card rewards on all your eligible expenses, including everyday purchases such as groceries and gas. These rewards can then be used to help cover flights and hotel stays, which are often two of the biggest travel costs. Be sure to compare different credit cards and the rewards they earn so you can get the most out of your credit card rewards. 3. Stay flexible with your plans It may not always be possible to have flexibility with your travel plans. You might have one window of vacation time that you can use during a certain month of the year and that’s it. If this is the case, you unfortunately won’t have as many options for decreasing your travel costs. But if you’re able to be flexible with when and where you travel, you can find a lot more budget-friendly options. Peak times will vary depending on your destination. But, for example, many Americans want to travel during the summer months because their kids are out of school and the weather is nice. This causes prices to rise in certain areas for flights and hotel stays because a lot more people want to travel during these peak months. If you’re flexible with your plans, you can avoid traveling anywhere during a destination’s peak season(s), which should cut your travel costs by a fair margin. Being flexible on your destination itself can also help cut costs. If you simply want to visit an area with beaches, you could save a lot of money by traveling to the relatively inexpensive countries of Southeast Asia rather than taking an expensive trip to the Maldives. 4. Do your research Along with having some flexibility in your travel plans, you should also do the proper research on where you’re traveling before the dates of your trip. This includes knowing how you’re getting there and back, where you’re staying, and what you’ll be doing while you’re there. Apart from giving you a plan for your travels, doing research can also offer opportunities for you to save money. For example, it’s easy to book a flight through an airline’s website, but how do you know you’re getting the best deal? To compare flight prices, use tools like Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak, and others to see which airline and flight route might offer the most savings. This same strategy can be used for hotel stays and car rentals as well, though the sites you use will likely be different. Even if you’re planning to use credit card rewards to book award flights or award stays, this type of research can help you save points and miles. You can then use your saved rewards on more travel opportunities, further decreasing your travel costs. 5. Consider travel insurance Do you need travel insurance while traveling? Not necessarily, but it’s not a bad idea. In many cases, travel insurance is cost-effective and could help you recoup expenses for unforeseen circumstances that arise during your travels. For example, what happens if you have to cancel your trip? Or what if you incur emergency medical expenses while overseas? Credit card travel insurance can cover certain things, such as trip interruptions or cancellations, but a travel policy from an insurance provider is typically more robust. If a travel insurance plan that costs a few hundred dollars covers you for thousands of dollars worth of medical treatments or pays to replace your expensive smartphone, the policy more than pays for itself. The bottom line Overall, there are plenty of ways to avoid travel debt, though the best ways for you will depend on your lifestyle and financial goals. But before you consider saving up for traveling, you should first pay off any debt you may already have. Traveling will likely cost some money, even if you follow these tips. So going on a trip before tackling existing debt may not be the most financially sound course of action. Learn how to pay off debt beforehand, and you’ll have more financial freedom to start your travels. Ben Walker is a credit cards and travel writer at FinanceBuzz who loves helping others make informed and financially sound decisions, especially when it comes to traveling the world. He does this by explaining key principles involving credit cards, budgeting, banking, insurance, investing, and more.
Guest Post by Orlando Rodríguez DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to be, legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Debt settlement is when creditors or collection companies agree to clear a debt for less than you owe. It sounds simple in principle — and very convenient — but is it a money-saving tactic or a credit trap? What are the risks of debt settlement, and what are the alternatives? If you’re confused by debt settlement, you’re in the right place. In this brief guide, we’ll explore what the term means, and how it can affect your credit. What is debt settlement? When you settle a debt, you pay your creditor or a collection agency less than you owe, including existing interest and fees. Debt settlements are usually lump-sum payments, though some organizations allow consumers to set up payment plans instead. Debt settlement pros include: Reduced pressure from creditors A fresh financial start The chance to avoid bankruptcy The risks of debt settlement include: Serious credit damage Unexpected tax bills Extra fees and penalties Before you negotiate with a creditor or collection agency, think seriously about your options. Don’t make any decisions until you know what you’re up against. What are the advantages of debt settlement? We touched on the advantages of debt settlement briefly above. Now, let’s look at each plus point in a little more detail. Reduced financial pressure Debt can feel like a crushing weight. Constant calls from creditors and collection agencies cause anxiety, and the guilt associated with outstanding debt can lead to mental health issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, getting rid of a debt can bring emotional relief. A fresh start If you currently pay a lot of money toward your debts every month, opting for debt settlement could help you find financial balance in the long term. Debt settlement offers don’t appear by magic — it takes a while before creditors begin to negotiate — but they’re a quicker route to a debt-free status than minimum payments. After you eliminate your debts, you can start again. That’s perhaps the biggest debt settlement plus. No bankruptcy Debt settlement can help you avoid bankruptcy. If you have assets you’d rather not part with, or you’re worried about the impact personal insolvency might have on your small business, you could be better off settling your debts than filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you’re hovering between bankruptcy and debt settlement, consult with a financial professional to find the best option for you. What are the negative effects of debt settlement? It’s wonderful to imagine a fresh start—an end to overwhelming monthly payments and the shame associated with unmanageable debt. There are downsides to debt settlement, however. Serious credit damage When you settle a debt for less than you owe, it makes a negative impact on your credit report. When you negotiate settlement terms and your original contract with the lender is modified, you’ll damage your payment history and your credit score will go down. Unless you’re able to negotiate to have them removed, delinquent payments and collection accounts will stay on your report for seven years—even if you settle. The impact on your credit score depends on the terms of the settlement and how it’s reported on your account. Unexpected tax implications Many people are surprised by the tax implications of debt settlement. When you settle a debt for less than you owe, part of it is written off—and the IRS sometimes considers the forgiven portion taxable income. On the face of it, that doesn’t seem fair—after all, you didn’t physically receive the forgiven portion of your debt. Nevertheless, you may need to report that amount to the IRS and if applicable, pay taxes on it. The tax-related rules that apply to debt forgiveness are pretty complex. To find out where you stand, ask an accountant or a financial advisor before settling debt. Extra fees and penalties Debt settlement strategies take time to come to fruition. While you wait for an opportunity to negotiate, your unpaid debts will accrue interest and fees. Sometimes, collection agencies charge additional recovery fees, which they apply when they agree to a settlement. If you agree to the settlement amount, if part of your agreement, you’ll also need to pay those fees. What are some alternatives to debt settlement? Not sure debt settlement is right for you? In that case, consider these alternatives: Renegotiation — Ask your creditors for an interest rate reduction, or talk to them about reducing monthly payments. Debt consolidation — Consolidating your credit cards and loans into one single lower monthly payment can greatly reduce the amount you spend on debt every month. Credit counseling — If you have trouble creating a workable budget and need help figuring out your finances, speak to a credit counselor or financial advisor. A debt management plan — Under the terms of a DMP, you make payments to reduce the amount you owe to all your creditors at once. Chapter 13 bankruptcy —Your finances get reorganized and you make court-mandated payments for a set amount of time after you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Chapter 7 bankruptcy — Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes the slate clean—but it’ll be difficult to obtain credit for a while, and the bankruptcy will stay on your record for 10 years. Bankruptcy is arguably the most extreme solution to debt. Consumers who opt for Chapter 7 bankruptcies have to liquidate many of their assets before they’re deemed debt free. Under the terms of Chapter 13 bankruptcies, people are allowed to keep some of their assets. Chapter 13 is safer if you own your own home or have valuable possessions you want to pass on. Speak to an experienced financial advisor and consult with a bankruptcy lawyer before choosing voluntary insolvency. How do you settle a debt? If you decide to proceed with a debt settlement strategy, you can take a DIY approach or work with a debt settlement company. Let’s review both options. The DIY route Creditors are unlikely to negotiate with you if they believe you can continue to make monthly payments or that you can pay the debt in full. To move into debt settlement territory, it’s best if your accounts are already delinquent by at least 90 days. If you want to continue missing payments while negotiating, know that there are serious credit-related ramifications associated with terminating payment in this way. So, consider keeping up with payments while at the same time building a lump sum to pay off the debt. Before you quit paying, talk to your creditors about reducing monthly payments. If you do stop paying your loan or credit card bill, late charges and fees will accrue and your credit score will drop. So, if you go the DIY route, know what you can and can’t afford to do, and find an agreement with the creditor that works best for your situation. Note: Remember, your credit score will drop dramatically if you stop paying your debts, so you’ll find it very difficult to obtain a loan or a credit card—possibly for years. A settlement company If you have a lot of debts to settle and haven’t been able to negotiate with your creditors independently, a settlement company can help take the pressure off. Settlement companies negotiate with your creditors on your behalf, reducing the amount of direct contact you have with the companies you owe money to. Settlement companies usually charge fees. So, it’s important to factor those into your payment estimates. On the flip side, they can help you recover a sense of financial stability and may also provide budgeting advice. Note: It’s hard to define what percentage of a debt is typically accepted in a settlement. Some companies won’t take less than 70 percent of what you owe, while others will go as low as 30 percent. Is debt settlement really worth it? In short, debt settlement is sometimes worth it if you can’t afford to pay off what you owe in full. If the risks of bankruptcy outweigh the benefits for you, and if you feel trapped under a mountain of debt, a settlement offer might bring peace of mind. If you decide to settle one or more of your debts, seek advice from a qualified tax professional about tax implications. Draft a savings plan to ensure you have the money to pay any taxes you owe at the end of the year, and create a solid budget to keep your finances on the level in the future. Finally, check out credit repair options, some of which could help you rebuild a solid credit profile. Orlando Rodríguez is a writer and content specialist for the Credit.com team dedicated to creating helpful, informative and eye-catching content. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Utah focusing on Film and Media Arts. He’s written blogs and journalistic content for many different industries, and narrowed down his niche to the financial industry. In his off time, Orlando puts effort into crafting creative content around the arts.