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Does Your Credit Card Limit Measure Up

MoneyTipsAre you aware of your credit card limit, the total dollar amount that your credit card issuer will generally allow you to spend without involving penalties, fees, or declined transactions? If you do not spend anywhere close to your limit, you may not care about it – but you should. Your credit card limit plays a role in your credit score, and vice versa. According to data from Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus along with Equifax and TransUnion, the average credit card limit in the U.S. as of December 2016 was $8,071. However, average credit limits vary greatly with cardholders' credit scores. Borrowers with Deep SubPrime credit, defined as a credit score of 300-499 on the VantageScore system, have an average credit limit of $1,834. On the other end of the scale, borrowers with SuperPrime credit (credit scores above 781) merit an average credit limit of $11,357. SubPrime credit (credit score 500-600) cardholders have an average limit of $2,645. NonPrime credit (601-660) produces an average $4,674 limit, and Prime credit (661-780) yields an average limit of $7,593. It's reasonable that those with lower credit scores have average lower credit limits, based on the risk of non-payment. Credit scores are derived from your credit report, which contains information on your record of borrowing and repaying money. If you have a demonstrated history of missed or late payments, you pose a greater risk to a lender – therefore your credit score will be lower and your credit limit will follow suit. You can check your credit score and read your credit report for free within minutes using Credit Manager by MoneyTips. Are you still wondering why you should care if you spend well below your limit? If you have a credit limit that is lower than your credit report and spending habits should warrant, you may be missing an opportunity to get a higher credit score simply by asking your card issuer to raise your credit limit. Along with improving your credit score, you increase the chances for better offers on future credit cards and loan qualifications because of lower credit utilization – the amount of credit you are using compared to your credit limit. Payment history is the factor that contributes the most to your credit score, but another large portion is determined by credit utilization. Experian's Director of Public Education, Rod Griffin, describes their findings: "What we found is that people with the very best credit scores have utilization rates of less than 10%...One of the numbers you'll hear out there is 30% - that's really a maximum." Missed or late payments will always ding your credit score, but that behavior causes even more worry to a creditor when you are near your credit limit. A recent study by CreditCards.com found that only 28% of cardholders have ever asked for a credit limit increase, but that 89% of those who do receive an increase. With a good history, a card issuer is likely to see more reward than risk in increasing your limit, expecting that you may incur more interest charges without risking an unpayable debt spiral. If your credit is too shaky to ask for a credit limit increase, improve your credit score the old-fashioned way: limit your expenses and pay down your debts with regular, on-time payments. You can expedite the process if you qualify for a balance transfer card that allows you to use an introductory 0% APR period to pay down debt without incurring interest charges. April Lewis-Parks, Director of Education and Public Relations for Consolidated Credit, illustrates with the example of a person with $4,000 in debt on a card with a $5,000 limit. "If they take that debt and transfer it to another card that has a higher credit limit (say $10,000), that $4,000 is much lower percentage-wise and that alone will raise their credit score." Keep in mind that this strategy fails if you use your higher credit limit as an excuse to spend more money. Be proud of your large credit card limit if you like, but be even prouder of your relatively low spending, low credit utilization, and high credit score. Creditors will be proud of you, too. If you want more credit, check out MoneyTips' list of credit card offers. Photo ©iStockphoto.com/WeekendImagesIncOriginally Posted at: https://www.moneytips.com/does-your-credit-card-limit-measure-up/885Higher Credit Limits Help Improve Credit ScoresLenders Profit From Your Minimum Credit Card PaymentsCredit Cards Offer Rewards For Adding Authorized Users

To Travel Cheap, Steer Clear of These Booking Flubs

Habits can be hard to break, but certain travel-planning tendencies could be costing you. To help you save money, we’ve identified five mistakes you won’t want to make again.

Mistake 1: Not logging in

Your casual travel browsing could be working against you. That’s because creating an account and logging in to a travel website can unlock better prices, according to Maureen Thon, a spokesperson for travel company Expedia. “A lot of people don’t realize, but if you just log in to a travel site when you visit it to do your searching, you can actually find a deal that way,” she says.

At Expedia, you’ll need to sign up for the Expedia+ rewards program with your email address and basic information to access member-only deals. Log in to your account to score 10% off 70,000 hotels and nearly 10,000 activities, according to Thon.

Over at Hotels.com, become a rewards member and sign in to your account to unlock lower rates. Plus, you can get one night free (just pay taxes and fees) after you collect 10 nights.

Mistake 2: Waiting too long

If you’re waiting for a magic moment to book, you might miss out.

Kate McCulley is a travel blogger, known as Adventurous Kate, who has visited more than 60 countries. She says people often ask her if there’s a best time to book flights, but it’s not as easy as buying on a certain date or at a certain time.

Your best bet? Start researching early. “Generally the best time to book a flight is three to six months out,” McCulley says.

Mistake 3: Being inflexible

Most travel experts agree that starting your travel shopping a few months ahead of departure is in your best interest, but if you enjoy traveling on a whim, be open to last-minute deals.

Say you want to travel to Paris on June 2; you’ll be pretty much bound to whatever the airfare prices are that day. But if you’re easygoing about where and when you’ll be jet-setting, you’ll reap better deals, says Matt Kepnes, a travel blogger and author better known as Nomadic Matt.

“Having some sort of flexibility in your planning is going to go a long way,” Kepnes says. Be ready to pounce on cheap flights when they pop up.

Mistake 4: Forgetting to bundle

Many people know about bundling home and auto insurance, as well as cable and internet. Well, welcome another pair: Bundling your hotel and airfare is also a savings strategy.

Consumers can find package deals that combine flights and hotel stays at a discounted rate at travel websites like Travelocity and Orbitz.

You don’t always have to book your entire trip in one sitting, either. Thon of Expedia said she recently booked a flight to Denver on Feb. 20 and had until Feb. 23 to add a Denver hotel to her trip at a discount of up to 50% off.

Travel search site Kayak found savings of up to 32% by choosing a flight and hotel package versus booking flight and hotel separately, according to David Solomito, a travel expert at the company. He says exact savings may vary throughout the year and be based on destination.

» MORE: The cheapest way to rent a car

Mistake 5: Missing out on coupons

The hotel or flight price you see isn’t always the price you have to pay. Savvy shoppers know to search for coupons and online promo codes before ordering something online, and savvy travelers should learn to do the same.

Look for coupon codes at websites like Groupon, follow travel websites on social media, and sign up for email alerts to have deals sent to you. Pay particularly close attention to potential savings opportunities around major holidays and annual sale periods such as Black Friday.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

Payday Loans Are Dying. Problem Solved? Not Quite

Payday loans — the “lifesavers” that drown you in debt — are on the decline.

Fines and regulatory scrutiny over high rates and deceptive practices have shuttered payday loan stores across the country in the last few years, a trend capped by a proposal last summer by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to limit short-term loans.

Consumer spending on payday loans, both storefront and online, has fallen by a third since 2012 to $6.1 billion, according to the nonprofit Center for Financial Services Innovation. Thousands of outlets have closed. In Missouri alone, there were approximately 173 fewer active licenses for payday lenders last year compared to 2014.

In response, lenders have a new offering that keeps them in business and regulators at bay — payday installment loans.

Payday installment loans work like traditional payday loans (that is, you don’t need credit, just income and a bank account, with money delivered almost instantly), but they’re repaid in installments rather than one lump sum. The average annual percentage interest rate is typically lower as well, 268% vs 400%, CFPB research shows.

Spending on payday installment loans doubled between 2009 and 2016 to $6.2 billion, according to the CFSI report.

Installment loans aren’t the answer

Payday installment loans are speedy and convenient when you’re in a pinch, but they’re still not a good idea. Here’s why:

Price trumps time

Borrowers end up paying more in interest than they would with a shorter loan at a higher APR.

A one-year, $1,000 installment loan at 268% APR would incur interest of $1,942. A payday loan at 400% APR for the same amount would cost about $150 in fees if it were repaid in two weeks.

“While each payment may be affordable, if it goes for years and years, the borrower could end up repaying much more than what they borrowed,” said Eva Wolkowitz, manager at the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

You’re in the hole much longer

Payday installment loans are often structured so that initial payments cover only interest charges, not principal.

“The longer the loan is, the more you’re just paying interest upfront,” said Jeff Zhou, co-founder of Houston-based Fig Loans, a startup that makes alternatives to payday loans.

Add-ons add up

On top of high interest rates, lenders may charge origination and other fees that drive up the APR. Many also sell optional credit insurance — not included in the APR — that can inflate the loan cost. Lenders market this insurance as a way to cover your debts in case of unemployment, illness or death. But the payout goes to the lender, not the borrower.

About 38 percent of all payday installment borrowers default, according to the CFPB.

Americans still want small-dollar credit

The demand for payday loans in any form isn’t going away soon. Twelve million Americans use payday loans annually, typically to cover expenses like rent, utilities or groceries, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“The original two-week loan originated from customers’ demand for the product. Likewise, customers in many cases are demanding installment loans,” Charles Halloran, chief operating officer of the Community Financial Services Association of America, a payday lending trade group, said in an email.

Income growth is sluggish, expenses are up and more Americans are experiencing irregular cash flow, said Lisa Servon, professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Unbanking of America.”

“It’s a perfect storm that’s very good for the expensive short-term creditors, not so much for the average American worker,” she said.

What’s the alternative?

While Americans want small-dollar loans, 81% said they’d rather take a similar loan from a bank or a credit union at lower rates, according to recent Pew surveys.

Banks are waiting for the CFPB to finalize its proposed rule for payday lending before entering this market, according to Pew. As the fate of the CFPB remains unclear under the Trump administration, banks may not offer cheaper payday loans anytime soon.

In the meantime, if you need fast cash, try a credit union. Many offer payday alternative loans capped at 28% APR to members. Nonprofit community organizations also make low- or no-interest loans for utilities, rent or groceries.

Amrita Jayakumar is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajayakumar@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ajbombay.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today.

How to Invest Without Sacrificing Your Values

Social values may not be the first thing that comes to mind when investing in the stock market, but there are numerous ways for investors to align their portfolios with their beliefs and passions.

Values-based investing has been around a while — religious groups have a lengthy history with it — but due to rising demand and better access to data, investors today have more values-based investment choices than ever before. As well, these investments often perform competitively: A 2016 TIAA Global Asset Management study concluded that investing indexes with socially responsible objectives achieved similar long-term performance as broad market benchmarks.

Here’s how to align your investments with your convictions and the impact that doing so can have.

Define your values

Think about your passions — causes you support through donations or activism, religious or political beliefs and the businesses you frequent. Now, merge those values — think climate change policies, corporate diversity, human rights, animal testing or faith-based ideals — into the criteria you use to select investments.

Values-based strategies go by a variety of names. There’s sustainable, responsible and impact investing, as well as the confusingly similar socially responsible investing. These approaches examine company characteristics — particularly those related to environmental and social issues and corporate governance practices — to determine suitability for investment.

You may include, or exclude, investments based on whether they support your values. For example, you may want to exclude companies that manufacture tobacco products — or to include corporations with gender equality in leadership positions.

Many mutual funds and exchange-traded funds use one or both of these screening options. Negative screening excludes companies based on certain values and has historically been the approach for socially responsible and faith-based strategies. Positive screening seeks to include companies that explicitly support certain values. This approach has gained popularity in recent years among investors who care deeply about environmental, social or corporate issues.

Review your investment choices

Of the total assets under professional management in the U.S., more than 20 percent — or about $8.7 trillion — was invested following sustainable principles in 2016, according to a Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment report sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, Bloomberg and several financial institutions.

While you could do the painstaking research to identify individual stocks that align with your values, it’s often easier to choose from the mutual funds and ETFs created by investment firms.

If you have an account with an online broker, check its values-oriented offerings. For example, Charles Schwab maintains a list of what it calls “socially conscious” mutual funds and ETFs, with over 100 of the funds available on its OneSource platform. Fidelity and Merrill Edge also have tools to identify investments that support specific values.

Meanwhile, investment app Stash has “I believe” mission-driven themes, including “Clean & Green,” “Do the Right Thing” and “Equality Works.” Motif Investing recently launched automated portfolios that address one of three social goals: sustainable planet, fair labor or good corporate behavior. This is in addition to its other “motifs,” themed collections of up to 30 stocks or ETFs users can customize.

Like any investment decision, it’s important to do your homework. That includes researching a fund’s performance, assets and fees. Morningstar provides free sustainability ratings for about 20,000 global mutual funds and ETFs.

The value of values

Values-based investing can be a tough sell for investors who doubt their ability to make a difference, but they should not give up hope, says Janet Brown, president of FundX Investment Group, which recently launched a sustainable investment fund.

“We have to somehow get the point across that money flows can change corporate behavior,” she says.

The feeling of engagement is important, particularly because shareholder activism is a key component of impact investing. Trillium Asset Management, a firm specializing in sustainable investments, recently submitted a shareholder proposal that resulted in Tractor Supply Co. committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trillium also used proposals to prompt reforms in sustainability reporting and minimum wage policies at Chipotle.

The market may seem like an unconventional place to express your values. But if finding investments that align with your values gets you more excited, engaged and invested, you should hold your convictions close as you make those decisions.

Remember, socially responsible strategies shouldn’t dictate your portfolio. Aim to express your values while investing in a variety of assets — stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs — as well as different components within each. As with all investing, diversification and risk management remain critical within values-based investing strategies.

Anna-Louise Jackson is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: ajackson@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @aljax7.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Who’s Going to Pay for That? Maybe You (and Your Insurance)

Everybody knows accidents happen, but in the eyes of the law (and insurance companies), there’s almost always someone to blame.

If you or your family are responsible for accidental damages to someone else — either property damage or injuries — that person may be able to make a liability claim against you and your insurance. Liability insurance claims can fall under your auto, homeowners or renters, and umbrella insurance, depending on the accident.

Liability insurance is only for damages to someone else — meaning you’re “liable.” It doesn’t pay for your own family’s injuries or damage to your own belongings, and it doesn’t cover intentional injury or damage.

The blame in liability cases is not always clear-cut, and who’s at fault may be disputed. If an insurer denies a liability claim, or an injured person thinks the payout is insufficient, they can hire an attorney and take the case to court.

Here are some common scenarios and who’s likely to blame.

1. Classic fender bender

The situation: Jim is driving home in heavy traffic when he’s suddenly cut off by another driver. A second later, the driver slams on the brakes and Jim just doesn’t have time to stop, so he rear-ends the car and damages the back.

Who’s liable: Even if the other driver was being a jerk, Jim is likely liable for the accident because he failed to maintain a safe driving distance. The other driver can make a claim against Jim’s car insurance to pay for damage to her car.

In some states blame can be split if both drivers share fault. For example, if the other driver’s brake lights were out and Jim couldn’t tell she was stopping, she could be found partially responsible in some states.

See this State list: Contributory negligence and comparative fault laws from Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer in Hartford, Wisconsin.

Another route: The other driver can make a claim for her car damage on her own collision insurance, if she has it.

» MORE: What does car insurance cover?

2. Food poisoning at a barbecue

The situation: The Jacksons decide to throw a backyard barbecue, but Uncle Joe calls a few days later to report he spent the next day in the hospital with food poisoning. Joe blames the potato salad, saying it sat in the sun too long. Nobody else has complained of illness to the Jacksons, who think it was just an unfortunate coincidence.

Who’s liable: It’s hard to say whether the Jacksons caused the illness through negligence, but Uncle Joe can still file a claim with their home insurance company.

“If someone’s coming at you, injured and looking for money, the first thing you should do is look at your insurance coverage,” says Bob Passmore, assistant vice president at the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America.

Home insurance and renters policies typically include medical payments coverage that will pay for medical bills up to a certain dollar amount. Some policies offer only $1,000 in medical payments, but you can usually buy more. Typically, no one has to determine fault or negligence for this coverage to pay out, Passmore says. If medical bills are higher, a claim could be made against your homeowners liability insurance, for which negligence has to be shown.

Another route: Uncle Joe can use his own health insurance for his medical bills.

» MORE: Understanding homeowners insurance

3. A party guest drives home intoxicated

The situation: The Novaks host a family holiday get-together. Aunt Charlene has too many glasses of wine before she gets behind the wheel, and she causes a crash on the way home. She goes through someone’s fence and hits their patio furniture.

Aunt Charlene has property damage liability insurance in her auto policy, as required by her state, but her limits are so low that her policy won’t cover all the damage. The fence owner says that because the Novaks served the alcohol, they’re liable for the costs to fix all the damages. The Novaks think that’s on Charlene, who should have known she was too drunk to drive.

Who’s liable: This one depends on where the Novaks live. They are probably not liable for the costs beyond what Charlene’s car insurance will cover, says attorney Joseph Matthews, author of Nolo’s “How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim.”

Some states have “social host” laws that can hold someone accountable if they provide alcohol to a guest in their home who then gets into a car accident, Matthews says. However, many of these laws focus on alcohol served to minors, he says.

Aunt Charlene isn’t a minor, so the Jacksons are only liable for the damage if they live in a state with social host laws that apply to adult guests. In that case, the fence owner would likely have to prove Charlene was clearly drunk at the party and one of the Novaks knew she would be driving, Matthews says.

Another route: The fence owner can make a claim on their own homeowners insurance.

4. Children injuring children

The situation: Some elementary-school-age children are playing at their neighborhood park when little Suzie Smith pushes Johnny Jones at the top of the playground set. Johnny falls off, injuring his head on the way down, and must go to the ER. Johnny’s mother calls an ambulance, then threatens Suzie’s parents with a lawsuit.

Who’s liable: Since Suzie is a child, her parents are liable for Johnny’s injury. Medical payments coverage, part of their homeowners insurance, can pay out up to a small amount no matter who’s at fault — typically $1,000 with the option to buy more.

But if Johnny’s seriously injured, the Smiths’ medical payments coverage through their homeowners insurance may not be enough. Rather than sue, the Joneses can file a claim against the Smiths’ homeowners liability insurance. On top of reimbursement for medical bills, they may also receive compensation for Johnny’s pain and suffering.

Another route: The Jones family can use their health insurance for Johnny’s medical bills, but it won’t pay for pain and suffering.

5. Her tree falls on his roof

The situation: A nasty windstorm causes a large tree in Jane’s yard to fall on her neighbor Ed’s roof. Ed and Jane agree that it really is a lot of damage, but disagree about whose insurance should pay. Ed thinks that since it’s Jane’s tree, she’s at fault and her homeowners insurance should pay for the damage.

Who’s liable: Ed’s homeowners insurance likely covers the damage, even though someone else owned the tree, Passmore says. Ed’s home insurance would pay for the damage because nobody was negligent or careless in this case.

There may be an exception if something was wrong with the tree, such as rot, and Jane knew about it but did nothing. In that case, Ed would have to prove that Jane knew about the rot and was negligent by ignoring it — a difficult case to make, Passmore says.

6. Injured slipping on ice

The situation: It’s been a cold and icy winter, but Sally’s neighborhood is starting to thaw and she goes for a walk.

On the sidewalk in front of the neighboring Henderson home, Sally loses her footing on a sheet of ice and fractures her wrist trying to break her fall. When she approaches the Hendersons about her fall, they say they did what they could, but there was just no way they could have prevented ice from forming in that particular spot.

Who’s liable: Who is at fault depends on where the accident took place, Matthews says. In some areas, the city or county has a legal duty to keep sidewalks in a safe condition, including snow and ice removal, he says.

But in many places it is the responsibility of property owners to keep the sidewalk clear and safe. If that’s the case in their neighborhood, Sally can file a claim against the Hendersons’ homeowners insurance, Matthews says.

Property owners can only do so much to clear walks, and Sally should know that one thing that happens in winter is that ice forms on sidewalks, Matthews says. Her claim could be reduced or denied if she were in any way careless, if she knew the ice was there or if the Hendersons took reasonable steps to keep the walk clear.

Another route: Sally can use her health insurance for her medical bills.

7. A dog hit by a car

The situation: Leonard, who rents an apartment, decides to take his dog to the park to let her burn off some energy. As he’s playing with her off leash, she’s distracted by a Frisbee across the road and runs toward it. Suddenly a car comes racing down the road and hits the dog. The driver stops, gets out and says he’s sorry about the dog. Then he notes the considerable damage to his car, saying Leonard should have to pay.

Who’s liable: “One of the foreseeable consequences of letting a dog off leash is that it might run into the road,” Matthews says. Therefore, Leonard is most likely liable for the damage to the car, and the driver can file a claim against Leonard’s renters insurance. This is especially true if he lives in an area with laws requiring dogs to be on leashes.

Leonard’s liability might be reduced, Matthews says, if:

  • He can prove the car was speeding
  • He can prove the driver was distracted
  • The park was designated as an “off-leash area” for dogs

Another route: The driver can file a claim on his own collision insurance, if he has it.

» MORE: Understanding renters insurance

8. An angry dog approaching

The situation: While walking through his neighborhood, Arnold sees a dog rushing at him, snarling and barking. Startled, Arnold falls back and sprains his ankle. The dog never reaches Arnold because the owner, Jen, has installed an invisible electronic fence to keep the dog on her property. Jen thinks she’s not to blame because Arnold and the dog never made contact.

Who’s liable: Arnold’s minor injuries are likely covered under Jen’s homeowners policy’s medical payments coverage.

If that is not sufficient, Arnold will have to prove Jen was negligent. In any liability claim, “you’re going to have to show that there was something the owner should have done that would have prevented your injury from occurring,” Passmore says.

Another route: Arnold can use his own health insurance for his medical bills.

The liability claim process

If you’ve been injured or your property was damaged and you think someone else is to blame, the first step is talking to them, Passmore says. Discuss what happened and ask about their insurance.

Follow these steps to initiate a claim against them:

Step 1

Ask for their insurance company’s name, the full name of the person who owns the policy and their policy number. You can write a letter directly to the insurance company to notify them that you’ll be a pursuing a claim.

If you didn’t get the name of the insurer, or the person responsible won’t give you the name, send them a letter by certified mail that notifies them that you’re seeking compensation for the incident. They have a duty to notify their insurer, and if they don’t they could lose their coverage.

» MORE: Sample letters from Injury Claim Coach:

Step 2

Snap some photos of injuries or visible damage with a time and date stamp.

Step 3

Expect a call from an insurance adjuster or investigator, who must determine if your injury or damage was caused by negligence. They’ll want to talk to you, the insured person and any witnesses, and see any photos you took or medical records of your injury.

Typically, you can determine who was at fault by asking some basic questions, Matthews says:

  • Did they have a legal duty to try and prevent the injury or damage?
  • Did they fail to fulfill that duty?
  • Did you, the injured, act reasonably to avoid the accident? If not, the claim payment could be reduced.

If someone wants to file a claim against your insurance, contact your insurer immediately, Passmore says. Let your insurer or agent know what happened from your point of view, and tell them to expect a claim.

Lacie Glover is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: lacie@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @LacieWrites.

Ask Brianna: How Can I Take a Vacation and Not Rack Up Debt?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

“I want to travel this summer, but I don’t have a ton of money. How can I go on an adventure without piling on credit card debt?”

We all need time to recharge (while making our friends jealous with artfully filtered Instagram photos). But travel can be pricey: An American Express survey found respondents expected to spend, on average, $941 per person on summer trips in 2016.

Booking travel on credit cards is convenient and can help you rack up rewards for future flight and hotel savings. But if you won’t be able to pay off the balance soon after you return home, a leisurely vacation might lead to months of anxiety and big interest charges.

The best way to avoid debt is by saving for adventures in advance. However, for last-minute travel this summer, you can still plan a thrifty trip by prioritizing low-cost airfare, opting for nontraditional lodging and picking unexpected destinations. Here’s how to save and spend wisely when you’re ready to get out of Dodge.

Start a travel fund

If you have the luxury of several months to plan, set up a savings account specifically for travel. You can schedule recurring transfers from your checking account or set up direct deposit from your paycheck.

John Schneider, who runs the blog Debt Free Guys with his husband, David Auten, says they each save $50 per pay period in a travel “slush fund.” They didn’t set up online access to the account, so they must withdraw money from it in person at their credit union. That discourages the couple from dipping into the fund to cover daily expenses, Schneider says.

Of course, make sure to save at least $500 for home emergencies before shifting your resources to a travel fund. Just starting to save for summer vacation now? You won’t have much time, so if you put some expenses on a credit card, set a spending limit and make a realistic plan to pay off the balance. Stay vigilant while you’re away: Keep a running tally of your expenses so you can cut back on the souvenir shopping if necessary.

Pick locations based on airfare

Getting to your destination will often be the biggest drag on your wallet. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for domestic trips of at least one night, transportation accounted for 39% of the total cost in 2013, followed by food and alcohol (27%) and lodging (26%). For international trips, transportation was more than half of the cost.

There’s always camping or driving to your destination, which is often cheaper than flying. But for destinations farther afield, websites like Airfarewatchdog, Google Flights and Skyscanner will let you compare airfares to your preferred destination. They’ll also show you what locations fit your budget on the dates you’re free.

If you’re loyal to a specific airline, use any miles you’ve earned; check the airline’s fare calendar and pick a vacation spot that way. If you travel a lot, consider springing for a branded airline credit card. They often provide free checked bags, notes Matt Kepnes, author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day.” But avoid carrying a balance. Interest can quickly cancel out baggage savings.

Live large beyond hotels

Steer clear of pricey hotels and choose lower-cost options like hostels, Airbnb, staying with local hosts for free on Couchsurfing and renting vacation homes on VRBO and HomeAway. If you have your own kitchen, you can cook and make drinks at home to cut down on food and alcohol costs.

Schneider also recommends house swapping, especially if you’re traveling internationally. For a monthly or annual fee, services like HomeExchange and Love Home Swap will let you list your place and swap it with other members. Home Exchange says swapping saves members “up to 58 percent on typical vacation costs.”

You can also save money on housing — and airfare, for that matter — by traveling to less popular summer destinations. Costa Rica between May and November is one option; it’s the rainy season, which locals call the green season. You’ll explore unconventional locales, make new friends and save some of your own green.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Today's Headlines: A New Debt Peak

MoneyTips America Breaks the Debt Record According to the New York Fed's recent Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, America has more debt than ever before. Do you? Should you be concerned in either case? The report shows that American household debt reached $12.73 trillion in the first quarter of 2017. That tops the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008, before the effects of the Great Recession reversed a long-standing trend of rising debt (and not in a good way). Is this milestone good or bad for America in general and for you in particular? Let's drill into the details for the answer. A More Stable Debt Picture Our collective household debt may have surpassed pre-recession levels, but the nature of that debt has changed from the 2000s. In 2008, household debt was almost equal to household income. Today, household debt represents approximately 80% of income. We may have more debt, but the nation is in better shape to absorb it. The debt mix has also changed noticeably since 2008. The Fed report divides household debt into six categories: mortgages (including home equity loans), home equity revolving debt (HELOCs), student loans, auto loans, credit cards, and other (consumer finance/retail loans). At 71.4% of all household debt in Q1 2017, housing debt (mortgages, home equity loans, and HELOCs) far outstrip the other four categories – as you would expect given the number of American homeowners and the average price of a home. At the 2008 debt peak, housing costs were nearly 79% of all household debt. Too many Americans were saddled with unmanageable debt and few refinancing options when the recession hit and home values collapsed. Today's tightened lending environment has dropped housing risk significantly. Currently outstanding subprime loans (Equifax scores lower than 620) are below $18 billion, compared to a 2007 peak of almost $115 billion. Mortgage delinquencies are at 1.7%, compared to a near 8% peak in 2010. In essence, the category holding most of the household debt ($8.63 trillion for mortgages) is in relatively stable shape – a good sign overall for America's economy. Auto and Student Loan Troubles If housing is playing a lesser role, what is driving the debt increase? It's not credit cards. Collective credit card debt has dropped from $839 billion at the end of 2007 to $764 billion in Q1 2017. American consumers, burned from the recession, are wary of taking on excessive debt and are managing their credit wisely. Two sources of debt are driving concern, however: auto loans and student loans. Auto loans, now at $1.17 trillion, are tracking the path of the pre-recession housing market regarding subprime loans. The share of subprime auto loans that are deep subprime (FICO scores below 550) rose to 32.5% in 2016. In 2010, deep subprime loans were only 5.1% of the outstanding total. While delinquency rates are flat at 3.8%, an auto loan bubble may arguably be forming – but it's not large enough to take down the economy as the housing crisis did. Student loan debt forms the more disturbing trend. It has skyrocketed from almost $500 billion in 2007 to $1.34 trillion today to become the second largest category of household debt. A disturbing 11% of student loan debt is either delinquent by more than 90 days or considered in default. Student loan debt is hard to discharge via bankruptcy – therefore, a generation may be affected for much of their life by student loan burdens, unable to afford homes and spend at the same levels as their parents. Good for the Nation, Bad for Some Given that debt often corresponds to increased consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of the economy, collective household debt is not necessarily bad. It must be considered in terms of value and risk. Mortgage loans provide value in home equity, assuming the debt is manageable. Student loans should provide a lifetime payback in an increased salary, but the rise in college costs relative to salaries has skewed this premise. Auto loans and credit card purchases should be looked at through a similar prism of value. America's household debt is arguably out of risk/reward balance in two areas, with student loans potentially more dangerous and persistent than auto loans. Neither market is large enough to cause an economic meltdown by itself, but some individual consumers will suffer – and with student loans, the effects may cause an extensive and slow drag on the economy. The Takeaway Realistically, a healthy American economy should generate increased household debt – because we regularly generate more households via population increase. As long as debt is issued with adequate risk management by both lenders and borrowers, and is not outpacing America's collective income, debt increase can be a positive sign. Debt increases are of greater concern at the individual level. Assess the risk involved in any debt that you incur. Is it worth the reward? For example, are you buying more home than you can afford, or will your planned college expenses be proportionate to your expected post-collegiate salary? Combine a return on investment viewpoint with a solid budget, and your debt will be manageable even when America's is not under control. If you have already incurred too much debt, especially student loan debt, investigate your refinancing options and potential forms of relief – but at the end of the day, the key is responsible budgeting. Limit expenses, increase income however possible, and use the surplus to pay down debt. It's fine to look for assistance, but don't hold out for shortcuts. If you want to reduce your interest payments and lower your debt, try the free Debt Optimizer by MoneyTips. Photo ©iStockphoto.com/baramee2554 Originally Posted at: https://www.moneytips.com/todays-headlines-a-new-debt-peak/457Consumer Credit Crisis! -- Household debt Today's Headlines: Household Debt Approaching Record LevelsConsumer Credit Crisis! – Credit Cards & Scores

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Budgeting for College Students: Where to Start

College marks a significant transition period for many young adults — it’s a time of newfound freedom and the financial responsibilities that come with it.

Whether your funds come from family, student loans, scholarships or your own wallet, you’ll need to budget for expenses like textbooks, housing and, yes, a social life. Knowing who’s footing the bill, what costs to expect and which ones you can live without — ideally before school starts — can reduce stress and help you form healthy financial habits for the future.

Have the money talk

Before you build a budget, go over some important details with the people — parents, guardians or a partner — who will be involved in financing your education. Discussing your situation together will ensure everyone is in the loop and understands expectations.

“One of the biggest obstacles we have [with] teaching young people financial literacy and financial skills is not making money and expenses a taboo subject,” says Catie Hogan, founder of Hogan Financial Planning LLC. “Open lines of communication are far and away the most important tool, just so everyone’s on the same page as far as what things are going to cost and how everybody can keep some money in their pocket.”

Here are some topics to start with:

  • Who is paying for college and how. Have a conversation before the start of each school year to decide if your family will pay for costs out-of-pocket or if you’ll need to get a job, rely on financial aid, use funds from a 529 plan or combine these options.
  • What expenses to expect. In addition to tuition, you’ll have to budget for other college costs, like transportation and school supplies. Make a list of likely expenses, estimate the cost and agree who pays for what. (See more on expenses below.)
  • FAFSA and taxes. Whether a parent or guardian claims you as a dependent or you file taxes on your own determines whose information is required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and who can claim tax credits and deductions. Discuss your financial status before each school year and address any changes, like a raise or job loss.
  • Credit cards and bank accounts. If you’re considering opening a credit card account for the first time, are younger than 21 and don’t work full time, you’ll need a co-signer: a parent or other adult. You’ll want to talk about ground rules, like only using a credit card for emergencies and defining what constitutes an emergency. Approach new financial products with caution and be careful not to take on debt. If you plan to directly deposit funds from a job or allowance, look for a checking account that offers low (or no) fees.
Anticipate your expenses

To determine what you’ll spend each term, keep these college-related expenses on your radar:

  • Textbooks and school supplies. Course materials could eat up a large chunk of your budget. The average estimated cost of books and supplies for in-state students living on campus at public four-year institutions in 2016-2017 was $1,250, according to the College Board. Also plan for purchases like notebooks, a laptop, a printer and a backpack, and read the do’s and don’ts of back-to-school shopping for money-saving tips.
  • Room and board. When it comes to food and living arrangements, weigh your options. Compare the cost of living on campus and getting a meal plan versus renting an apartment and shopping for groceries.
  • Transportation. Will you take a bus, bike or walk to and from campus or work? If you absolutely need a car, be prepared to cover gas, maintenance and insurance.
  • Clothing. Budget for seasonal clothing and job-fair outfits.
  • Discretionary spending. You deserve a break from studying. Leave room in your budget for fun stuff like entertainment, travel and social activities.

» MORE: How to manage money in your 20s

Track your spending and cut back where you can

The basic principles of budgeting, like living below your means, still apply regardless of the source of your funds. Whether you’re working or receiving help from your parents or financial aid — or all of the above —  figure out how much money flows in and out.

You don’t have to go through a grueling process, like filling out a spreadsheet every day; you’ll have enough homework. Just set aside some time at least once a month to review your money situation. Budgeting apps and online banking can help make the process more manageable.

“Just knowing that you can log into your online banking and take inventory of what you have and the income coming in, I think that’s more than enough,” Hogan says.

Once you start to monitor spending, you can decide where to save money. Identify your needs and wants and reduce spending on things that aren’t essential.

Start with the common culprits: food and fun. “Looking at what is the least expensive meal plan you can get without going hungry is a big money-saving tip,” Hogan says. “And a lot of campus activities and groups and all that [are] really great, but they can weigh really heavy on your budget, so don’t overcommit.”

» MORE: Should you spend, save or invest your graduation gift?

Keep your future self in mind

If you’ve managed to stay afloat as a student, you’re in good shape. Continue on a financially healthy path by thinking about life after graduation. If you’re working and able to build a cushion, set financial goals, like creating an emergency fund or saving for a trip — and don’t forget about any student loans you might have to pay off after graduation.

“You obviously don’t want to burden yourself so much that you have anxiety about it while you’re in college, but I think having a healthy grasp of reality … is helpful in terms of knowing what kind of lifestyle you can really afford to live in college,”  says Kyle Moore, a certified financial planner in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Lauren Schwahn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: lschwahn@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lauren_schwahn.

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