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Vacation Loans: Find the Lowest Rate Options

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Find the Lowest Rate Options

Updated November 03, 2017
Travel is a huge priority for many people in their 20s and 30s. Seeing the world and collecting those experiences can make a big impact on you as you continue to develop into the person you want to be, and it’s just easier to get out there and go when you’re young.

You have fewer responsibilities to tend to back home, and long-term relationships, houses, or children might not be tying you down.

But if you’re early on in your career and still dealing with burdens like student loan debt from your college days, you also have less money to spend on travel when you’re young. Money can be a major limiting factor in your ability to take vacations and see more of the world right now.

If you’re set on taking vacations even when your budget is limited, you may be tempted to look into loans to fund your trips.

Can You Get a Loan for Travel?

While “vacation loans” aren’t really a thing, you do have options if you look into getting a loan to fund a vacation. Many lenders will provide personal loans instead.

You can get a secured or unsecured personal loan. A secured personal loan means you put up some asset as collateral against the loan, so if you don’t repay the money you borrowed you lose that collateral. (That collateral is often something like your car.)

You may be able to borrow more at a better interest rate if your loan is secured, but you risk losing whatever asset you used as collateral.

When you apply for a personal loan, you’ll need to provide a reason for borrowing the money. Some institutions accept things like travel and vacations as legitimate reasons for borrowing. And while taking out a loan for your vacation may sound crazy, it could be a better financial option than loading up travel expenses on your credit cards.

Funding Vacations with Personal Loans

If you do an online search for personal loans to fund your vacation with, you’ll likely come across a number of lenders that offer funds for this purpose. SoFi, Prosper, Earnest, LendingClub, Karrot, and Upstart are all legitimate companies to explore if you want to take out a personal loan for travel.

These are all online loan companies that offer personal loans, along with other financial products. (SoFi, for example, offers student loan refinancing.) The amount you can borrow will vary depending on a number of factors. Karrot allows borrowers to request up to $35,000. Upstart’s minimum loans vary by state, but all max out at $50,000 as well. SoFi offers personal loans in amounts from $5,000 and $100,000.

Earnest is a little different. The company offers “merit-based” unsecured personal loans up to $75,000. These loans are designed for individuals who may have limited credit histories but demonstrate that they’re financially responsible.

There are a number of other companies that aren’t as reputable as those listed above, and are considered predatory. Predatory lenders tend to make loans with extortionate interest rates with complicated terms that are in favor of the lender, not the borrower.

You can quickly end up owing far, far more than what you initially borrowed if you’re not careful – especially when searching for a loan specifically to fund a vacation.

Again, there are no “vacation loans.” These loans are just personal loans, but marketed to be used for vacations. Predatory lenders target keywords like vacation loans and will often show up in search results if you look for a loan to fund your trip, so be aware of companies like Loans of America who create landing pages for their products like this. Choice Personal Loans is another example of a predatory lender that you should avoid.

But perhaps a loan shouldn’t even be your first thought.

The First Option to Consider

If you have excellent credit, then a 0% purchase APR credit card may provide you with a better option than a personal loan. The benefit of using these cards is that you’ll be able to pay off your vacation over time, with no extra payments to interest.

In addition to looking for personal loans, consider a balance transfer credit card. You can find MagnifyMoney’s guide to the best balance transfer credit cards here, which is updated regularly.

Keep in mind that most of these cards provide the 0% APR as a limited-time offer and there’s a time limit. If you fail to repay your balance in full by the end of that promotion period, you’ll owe interest on what you charged to the card. Not managing your payments can cost you a tremendous amount, so charge your vacation to any credit card with caution.

You could seek out a low interest rate credit card instead, but these typically come from credit unions and are reserved for the institution’s members. It’s well worth looking into this option if you’re a member of a credit union or are considering opening an account with one in your area.

If you are wary of charging your family vacation on a credit card or are concerned about paying it off before the end of the 0% APR, then look into personal loans.

If You Have to Borrow, Here’s What You Need to Know

If you choose to seek out a personal loan for a vacation, you need to have good to excellent credit to be approved – and to get a low interest rate on the money you borrow. Getting the lowest interest rate possible is the only way a personal loan might be a viable financial solution for your trip.

None of the lenders below charge a pre-payment penalty, but some do charge origination fees – so don’t forget to factor that in to the total cost.

Earnest (From 5.99% to 17.24% APR): One of the few lenders with No origination fee and no pre-payment penalty, Earnest is an excellent choice for those with top-notch credit and employment history. Fixed rate personal loans start range from 5.99% to 17.24% APR and you can borrow up to $75,000.

SoFi (fixed APR 5.99% – 22.56% with autopay): Similar to Earnest, SoFi also charges No origination fee, no pre-payment penalty and allows you to check your rate without harming your credit score. You can borrow a minimum of $5,000 and up to $100,000 from SoFi.

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LightStream (3.99% – 19.99% APR with AutoPay): is another lender that has No origination fee, but their interest rates run higher with the lowest starting at 3.99%. Similar to SoFi, you can borrow a minimum of $5,000 and up to $100,000. Unfortunately, there is no soft pull option and it will be a Hard Pull on your credit report to check if you’re eligible and determine your rate.

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Karrot (6.44%APR): Karrot’s minimum APR is a bit lower than LightStream, but the company does charge an origination fee. This fee varies from 1.05% - 4.75% of the total loan. Karrot’s APR cap is also significantly higher than Earnest, SoFi and LightStream – which means you could end up borrowing at a rate closer to 30% APR.

Note: Karrot has suspended their personal loan program and are not currently offering new personal loans at this time. If you have an outstanding personal loan, Karrot states they are still servicing those accounts.

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Upstart (8.27% – 35.99% APR): Similar to Karrot, Upstart also charges an origination fee and has a higher maximum APR cap of 35.99% APR. The origination fee is a Up to 8.00% APR on a loan up to $50,000. You can check your rate without it affecting your credit score.

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Be sure to shop around and get quotes from a number of companies, and then compare rates.

What to Do If You Have Poor Credit

The most difficult part of getting a personal loan from a reputable company for any purpose is getting approved as a borrower. Most companies require good to excellent credit scores before they’ll allow you to borrow funds.

But there are options if you have poor credit. Avant, One Main Financial, and FreedomPlus are lending options that are more lenient with borrowers. But beware: these loans will come with origination fees and much higher interest rates than what is available via companies like SoFi, Earnest, and Upstart.

Avant, for example, charges 9.95% to 35.99% APR on its loans. FreedomPlus’ loans come with an APR from 7.99% to 29.99%. Additionally, these products aren’t available in all states and rates may change depending on where you live. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.

You can find more information on these companies by searching for their FAQ, Support, or Help pages. Before applying, you should understand all fees involved, whether or not you’ll be charged if you pay off your loan early, and what interest rates and APRs you’ll be charged.

Look into Alternatives to Borrowing Money

At the end of the day, getting a personal loan is an option for funding your vacation — but it may not be the best money move to make. Instead of borrowing money, whether through a loan or by charging costs to a credit card, make a plan to explore financially sound alternatives.

The best way to fund your travels is to create a plan and start a travel savings fund for the trip or vacation you want to take. Consider using banks that offer great interest rates on cash savings accounts, like the ones in this post all offering APY of 1.05% or higher.

Then plan your trip and get an idea of the total cost. Let’s say you want to take a trip in the next year or so and you know your vacation will cost you $5,000. By giving yourself 18 months to save, you can set a goal to transfer $278 per month to your travel savings fund.

That will allow you to pay for your trip yourself, without taking out loans or using credit cards and subsequently paying more in fees and interest charges.

Feel like you can’t wait that long for your vacation? Your next option is to look at how you can reduce costs and take a trip that fits in your budget right now. Some solutions may include taking a trip with other people and splitting the cost of things like accommodations, or looking for low-cost alternatives to your dream trip. Perhaps you can stay in hostels or use Airbnb to find cheap rooms instead of splurging at pricey hotels every night.

And you can still use credit cards in a smart, responsible way. You can maximize your current spending and rack up reward points for travel. Then, you can use those rewards and points to cover your vacation expenses instead of paying for all costs with cash.

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How to Use Your Health Savings Account (HSA) as a Retirement Tool

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Medical expenses are no joke, and that is especially true for consumers saddled with high-deductible health plans (HDHPs). Since 2011, the rate of workers enrolled in HDHPs jumped from 11% to 29%, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For people enrolled in one of these HDHPs, chances are they’re familiar with the HSA, which stands for health savings account. HSAs are useful, tax-advantaged savings vehicles that allow consumers to contribute pre-tax dollars to a fund they can use for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

What HSA users may not realize, however, is that they can also hack their HSA and transform it into a tool for future retirement savings.

Before we explain further, you need to understand how HSAs normally work and who can take advantage of them. From there, you can use a strategy that allows you to use your health savings account as a powerful retirement tool that will help you manage your biggest expense once you retire.

How to Invest Through a Health Savings Account (HSA)

Health savings accounts allow you to contribute a set amount each year. As an individual, you can contribute up to $3,400 for 2017. Families can contribute up to $6,750, and the catch-up contribution for those over 50 allows you to put in an additional $1,000.

The money you contribute is tax free, meaning it reduces your taxable income in the current year. Once your money is in an HSA, you can hold it in cash or invest your savings to increase its earning potential. If you choose to invest, you can explore a variety of options.

But before you get too excited about the possibilities here, remember: not everyone gets access to HSAs. As we noted before, you need to have a high-deductible health plan before you qualify to open one of these accounts, which may or may not make sense for your financial situation.

You don’t have to use the HSA provider associated with your employer’s health insurance company, says Mark Struthers, a Certified Financial Planner and certified public accountant with Sona Financial.

“HSAs are individual accounts that don’t have to go through your employer. You can shop around for the lowest fees and best investment options,” Struthers says. And unlike their close cousin the Flexible Savings Account, HSAs are portable, meaning you can take your HSA with you if you leave the employer you opened it with.

Within the HSA itself, explains Struthers, you also get to choose many types of investments. “In addition to low-risk, savings-type accounts, you can invest in the same type of fixed income and equity mutual funds that may be in your 401(k) or IRA,” he says.

Just like all other investments, protecting against the risk of losing your hard-earned money is an essential step to take. Tony Madsen, Certified Financial Planner and president of New Leaf Financial Guidance recommends taking a hybrid approach.

“I typically advise my clients to leave two years’ worth of the maximum out-of-pocket expenses in cash in their HSAs,” Madsen explains. “Then, we include the rest in investments that are in line with the client’s overall retirement allocation.”

When you’re ready to withdraw your HSA contributions or your earnings, you can do so without penalty — and again without paying tax — anytime, so long as you spend the money on qualified health care expenses.

Examples of qualified expenses include doctor’s fees and dental treatments, vision care, ambulance services, nursing home costs, and even services like acupuncture or treatment for weight loss. It also includes things like crutches, wheelchairs, and prescription drugs (but does not include over-the-counter medications).

Why HSAs Are Great for Retirement Savings

Here’s what makes your HSA such an attractive vehicle for retirement savings:

If you can contribute to your HSA, invest it wisely, and leave the money in the account just like you would leave the money in your 401(k) or IRA until retirement, you can build a sizable nest egg to use specifically on health care costs after you retire.

Not only will you have a fund for medical expenses, but it’s also money you can use tax free!

That’s a big deal, because health care will likely be your largest expense in retirement. Fidelity estimates couples retiring in 2016 can expect to pay up to $390,000 for medical expenses and long-term care during their golden years.

Health savings accounts are designed to help you pay for medical expenses, tax free. No other account offers so many tax advantages for savers.

You can contribute money to the account tax free. Then you can invest that money, and the earnings are also tax free. If you withdraw the money and use it on qualified health expenses, that money is free from tax too.

In addition to the tax advantages, the funds you contribute to an HSA roll over from year to year. That means you don’t have to spend what you saved until you choose to do so.

(This is different from a Flexible Spending Account, where funds are subjected to a use-it-or-lose-it policy. If you don’t spend the money you put into the account by the end of the year, you don’t get it back.)

And health savings accounts aren’t just liquid savings vehicles. You can invest money within them, often within the same kind of mutual or index funds that you might invest in within a Roth IRA or brokerage account.

When It Doesn’t Make Sense to Use an HSA for Retirement Savings

While HSAs can provide a great, tax-free way to save and pay for qualified medical expenses, your priority should be on selecting the best health care plan for your needs first and foremost. If an HDHP makes sense for you, then you can look at using a health savings account.

If you have an HSA already or currently qualify for one, the next step is to consider hacking it to make it work even harder for you. You can transform your account from a good way to manage medical costs into a tool that makes it easier to bear the brunt of your projected retirement expenses.

This strategy may not work if you currently feel overwhelmed with the cost of your health care and need to take advantage of the tax-free savings and spending power today, instead of waiting for retirement.

Because you’re already in a high-deductible health plan if you have an HSA, that also means you are liable for greater out-of-pocket expenses if you seek treatment.

At a minimum, HDHP deductibles start at $1,300 for an individual or $2,600 for a family. Many HDHPs come with deductibles that range upward of $4,000.

Unless you already have an emergency fund with at least enough money to cover the cost of your deductible should you need to pay it, taking on an HDHP can leave you in a bad financial situation if a serious medical concern arises.

Here’s what you need to think about and ask before you switch to an HDHP:

  • Do you expect to spend a lot of money on health care expenses in the next 5 to 10 years? If you’re young and have no health concerns, your expenses will likely be low and manageable.
  • Do you currently have room in your monthly cash flow for occasional unexpected or increased expenses? If your budget can handle a few doctor’s bills here and there, you may be able to handle health care costs with regular income while you’re young.
  • Do you have an emergency fund, and if so, is it fully funded? Would paying your full deductible wipe out that savings? If so, you may want to create a bigger rainy day fund before you take on an HDHP.
  • Will you save on premiums if you switch to an HDHP? Often the higher deductible can provide you with a lower monthly premium, which can help free up more money in your monthly cash flow to pay for health needs as they arise — but that’s not always the case, so compare plans before making decisions.
  • Can you contribute a significant amount to your HSA? Switching to an HDHP just to get an HSA doesn’t make sense if you’re not close to making the maximum contribution to the account each year.

You can also use a tool created by Hui-chin Chen, Certified Financial Planner with Pavlov Financial Planning. She designed a decision matrix where you can input your own financial information and numbers, and see if an HSA makes sense for you based on that information.

If you’re already on an HDHP and like your plan or if you decide you want to switch to one, open an HSA and start saving. At the very least, you can save money tax free, invest it tax free, and use it tax free on qualified medical expenses.

And that’s a great situation, even if you can’t contribute money and leave it in the account all the way until retirement. If you’re able to contribute and let your savings compound until you retire, great! Use your HSA as a retirement tool to help you cover your biggest expected expense in life after work.

“A ‘good’ HSA decision is to have one and use the funds you saved as you need them,” explains Brian Hanks, Certified Financial Planner. “‘Better’ is maximizing your family contribution each year and using the funds as needed. A ‘best’ situation is to maximize your family contribution, not use the HSA account for medical expenses, and treat it as a second 401(k) or retirement account instead.”

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Consumer Watchdog, Reviews

Should You Shop with Fingerhut? (Probably Not)

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Should You Shop with Fingerhut

Plenty of consumers today either make a proactive choice to ditch credit cards or are unable to gain access to one due to a low credit score or non-existent credit history. In response, payment processors like PayPal offer a credit service where shoppers can finance purchases with online retailers – but more and more independent businesses are following the trend and offering their own lines of credit for online shopping portals.

Fingerhut is one such website. Fingerhut acts as a catalog that focuses on being able to finance your purchases. The site allows you to purchase and receive items now, and then make monthly payments on what you ordered to pay for them in full over time.

But is it really shopping on credit now and paying later?

How Fingerhut Works

Fingerhut

Fingerhut is an online shopping portal that sells “everything from furniture and bedding to jewelry to the latest electronics.” All purchases are made on a line of credit extended by the company and customers must repay their balances with monthly payments.

You’ll receive an answer immediately when you apply for credit, and some customers are able to start shopping instantly. Purchases that aren’t paid off in full after buying accrue interest, with an APR of 25.15%. There are no annual fees.

Fingerhut offers two programs for customers to receive credit: the Fingerhut Advantage Revolving Credit Account and the Fingerhut FreshStart Credit Account.

The Revolving Credit Account “may or may not require a one-time down payment when you place your first order.” The company states that this isn’t a fee, but a charge that will be applied to your order.

In comparison, the Fingerhut FreshStart® Credit Account is backed by WebBank and acts as an installment credit program. You’re required to make a $30 down payment on what you want to order. If you make payments on time and in full, Fingerhut promises to change your account to the Revolving Credit Account (and up your credit limit).

You cannot transfer balances or take cash advances from either credit option, and your credit can only be used with Fingerhut.

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Who is Being Targeted?

Fingerhut doesn’t require membership, but you do have to apply for their lines of credit before you can shop with them.

The site targets people with no or poor credit who may be declined for lines of credit with other retailers. If you’ve been declined for a store card at your local department store, for example, Fingerhut’s offer may look particularly attractive: you get to finance your purchases even with poor credit.

The main reason people shop with Fingerhut is because the company offers popular, name-brand products and allows you to finance them instead of having to purchase what you’re looking for outright. The site is legitimate from that standpoint – you can charge items to your credit account, they’ll ship after you make a down payment, and then you can repay the balance monthly.

But consumers need to beware before signing up, applying for credit, and heading to the checkout page.

Buyers Need to Beware

Prices of items listed on Fingerhut are considerably higher than other retailers, and there’s little benefit to buying items on the line of credit they offer. Those with bad credit scores won’t see much improvement to that score by using the site, and there’s no reason to attempt to boost your credit score by purchasing material goods from an online retailer.

If consumers need to purchase on credit, they’re often better off charging something to a credit card (or saving up cash to buy what they want). Fingerhut’s prices for the items themselves are higher than in other stores, and their interest rates are often even higher than the rates on credit cards.

And customers aren’t building credit with any company beyond Fingerhut. The site claims that they “can help shoppers build buying power with us,” which is not the same as building credit history. Instead, try building credit history with a secured card.

Choose More Sensible Shopping Alternatives

Fingerhut’s online catalog features a huge variety of items that you can order now and pay for later. But by the time you’ve paid off your purchase, there will be much more cash out of your pocket than necessary. Through Fingerhut, you’ll pay more for your item itself than you would if you purchased at another store – and you’ll pay interest on top of that, too.

If you don’t have the cash in hand today, take a step back and look at your budget to understand why. Are you overspending? Do you really need the item you’re trying to buy, or is an impulse purchase? Is there something else you’d rather do with your hard-earned money than spend on material goods, like saving up for a goal or investing for your future?

If you decide you do want to buy items like the ones you can find on Fingerhut, it still makes sense to choose other alternatives for your shopping needs. In the long run, it’s much cheaper to buy what you’re looking for through other retailers. You can still shop online and get better deals on overall price.

Use coupon sites to look for codes and discounts, and check out online shopping portals like Amazon and eBay to hunt for the best deals. Set up price alerts to be notified when things go on sale and plan purchases carefully to make the most of the money you want to spend.