With summer in full swing, you might be planning and packing up for the vacation of a lifetime. Before you load the car and head out, though, read through our list of four common vacation scams and learn how to avoid them. You don’t want to take a permanent vacation from your hard-earned money!
1. The bogus prize vacation
In this scam, you’ll receive notification via snail mail, phone call or email, that you’re the lucky winner of an absolutely free vacation stay. You’ll eagerly start planning your trip, only to find that you’re constantly asked to pay various “prize fees,” “taxes,” or “reservation deposits” as the departure date draws near. Your “free” vacation isn’t really free at all!
You might get suspicious and pull out. Or, you might be too deeply ensnared in the trap and only realize that, when you arrive at your destination, you’ve been conned. The vacation destination will either not exist at all, or be so substandard that you’ll need a vacation from your vacation when you get back home.
2. The dream-priced rental
You’re scrolling through Airbnb, searching for that perfect vacation rental house when you suddenly strike gold. There it is! The rental you’ve been looking for — and at a dream price!
You’ll contact the renter and begin making make arrangements for your trip. The renter will offer you an even steeper discount if you pay them through a third-party processing site instead of through the Airbnb website. Their likely preference is wire transfer. You’ll then be asked to pay a deposit or even the full price of the rental before you arrive. While it’s completely expected to pay up front through Airbnb or another rental service, you will not have the same protection if you’re not using the site.
The problem starts when you arrive at your vacation spot — or try to do so, that is. The address you’ve been given does not actually exist and the gorgeous pictures you’ve been looking through belong to another renter. Sadly, you’re now out your money and have nowhere to stay during your vacation.
3. Phony “experiences”
Aside from vacation rentals, sites like Airbnb also allow you to book “experiences,” or days out on the town with locals.
Unfortunately, this platform has become a breeding ground for scammers who offer phony tours to eager vacationers. You might find yourself booking a tour or an experience, and even paying for it, only to find out you’ve been scammed.
4. Travel-club membership with a catch
In these scams, unscrupulous travel companies work hard to persuade you to join their travel club with the promise of significant benefits and kickbacks, including dream vacation stays, discounted cruises or resort tickets and completely free getaways. Unfortunately, once you’ve joined the club, you’ll be charged high dues for perks that are so hard to access, they’re practically worthless. The discounted tickets will only be eligible for certain vacation dates that probably will not align with your own plans, and the “free” trip you were promised also comes with severe restrictions.
How to spot a vacation scam
Now that you know the many ways you can be conned while planning for or being on vacation, let’s take a moment to review the red flags that will clue you in to these scams.
Whether it’s a vacation rental, a tourist experience or a sweepstakes prize, you should not have to pay more than a small deposit before your arrival. If you’re asked to pay steep upfront fees or even the full amount before your vacation, run the other way and don’t look back.
Specific payment methods
Similarly, if you’re asked to pay via wire transfer only, you can be sure you’re looking at a scam. According to the FTC, a demand for payment by wire transfer is the surest sign of a scam.
Skimpy details and absent reviews
When booking any kind of vacation, do your research. If your contact refuses to provide you with anything more than the most basic of details and you can’t find much info online, you’re likely looking at a bogus vacation.
Prices that are too good to be true
Trust your instincts. If a vacation rental, experience or package is priced ridiculously low, do some digging. Google the travel company or the renter’s name with the words “scam” or “bogus” to see what results come up.
If you’re urged to sign on a vacation package quickly or risk losing out on the deal, opt-out. Scams succeed with speed.
Scammers never go on vacation. Keep your guard up when planning your getaway and stay safe!
Have you been targeted by a vacation scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.
Opening your first credit card is one of the rites of passage into genuine adulthood, but with so much conflicting information, it can all get confusing fast!
Let Advantage One walk you through the process to help you build a strong credit score and credit history that will serve you well throughout your life.
Choosing a credit card The way people typically build a credit history is by opening a credit card. But ironically, many credit cards won’t accept your application because you don’t yet have that credit history!
You’ll need to build your credit history from the ground up, and many people make the mistake of starting with cards that offer a very low limit but will accept almost any applicants, such as those offered by Capital One or Credit One. We encourage you to stop by Advantage One to ask about the credit cards we offer our members. We specialize in helping those with limited or damaged credit get back on track. If you’re outside our Field of Membership, we’d strongly encourage you to consider a local credit union. You’re more likely to get the personalized service you need at this critical phase of your financial journey.
Don’t apply to just any card that’ll have you. Look for these features when making your choice:
No annual fees – You shouldn’t have to pay money to use your card. Sometime in the future, you may want to open up a high-perk card with an annual fee to match, but for now, just concentrate on building your credit score.
A low interest rate – For your first credit card, you likely won’t be offered a really low interest rate, but that doesn’t mean you should be taken for a ride. Shop around for a card offering a reasonable rate, maybe only slightly higher than the average rate. If you can find one with a reasonably low fixed interest rate, even better.
Incentives for good behavior – Why not earn brownie points for playing by the rules? Look for a card that offers incentives, such as a bonus points, a grace period or no foreign-transaction fees.
Credit card dos and don’ts Once you’ve opened your card, or cards, make sure you use them to build and maintain that excellent score. Follow these guidelines and you won’t go wrong:
When Stephanie and her husband found themselves looking at a six-figure student loan debt load in 2009, they didn’t know how to start freeing themselves. Their small family’s budget was just barely making it to the end of each month. How would they possibly pay off such an overwhelming amount of debt?
Fast forward to the end of 2016 and that huge, monstrous debt was completely gone.
How did they do it? On her blog, Six Figures Under (SixFiguresUnder.com), Stephanie shares her family’s ongoing story, detailing the steps she’s taken and the changes she’s made in her family’s lifestyle for paying down their debt while continuing to live financially responsibly. She is brutally honest about her struggles and successes, sharing the mistakes she’s made along the way and the triumphs she’s celebrated. She also offers readers complete transparency into her family’s finances, posting actual numbers about the income her family earns, their fixed expenses, investments and the way they choose to spend their money on non-fixed expenses.
But Six Figures Under is not just about Stephanie’s story. Stop by the blog and you’ll find a large community of active followers joining in on a mission to pay down their debts and live a more financially conscious life.
For 2019, Six Figures Under is on a Debt Smash-athon charge. The blog’s community is invited to share the amounts of debt they’ve paid down each month. The numbers are then tallied and posted on the blog with the big wins singled out with special mentions. In March 2019, the Six Figures Under community paid down a total of $149,866.53 of debt, invested $31,202.12 toward retirement and put away $39,151.21 for big savings goals. The feeling of togetherness motivates members to boost their efforts in paying off their debts.
There’s more than numbers to Six Figures Under. Check out the blog for the following categories and topics:
Frugal Living Ideas – Here, you’ll find tips and tricks for saving money on everything from family road trips to grocery bills. Posts are always engaging and packed with actionable tips you can apply to your own life today.
Budgeting and Finance – The blog advocates living on last month’s income—and shows readers how to live this way, plus creating a manageable and realistic monthly budget.
Debt – Read up on tips for increasing your debt payments and common mistakes people make when handling their debt.
Ideas for Increasing Income – These posts cover a broad range of money-making ideas, from running a killer yard sale to starting a thriving business on Etsy.
Members of the blog get friendly monthly reminders inviting them to share their progress with the rest of the community, as well as frugal living tips and ideas delivered directly to their inbox.
The Six Figures Under blog is an inspirational, friendly place that is packed with money management tips and strategies for doubling down on your debt payments. Check it out today and join the debt-smashing fun!
Your Turn: Do you have a target date for paying down all debt? Or are you just chipping away at it, month by month? Share your debt-paying strategy with us in the comments.
We all grow up hearing the same financial advice: Spend less, save more and invest early. While most of these words of wisdom ring true, there are lots of widespread money management tips that are actually false.
Read on for 7 money myths that might be causing you more financial stress than benefit.
Myth #1: Debit is always better than credit. Do you automatically reach for your debit card when making a purchase? While it’s true that paying for your expenses with money you already have in your account is often the best choice, there is a time and a place for credit cards as well.
The real deal: Credit cards get a bad rap for the debt trap they represent, but they should be your payment method of choice on occasion. First, many credit cards offer rewards in the form of travel miles, cash-back systems and other bonuses. Second, building and maintaining a strong credit history is crucial for your financial wellness; the only way to achieve this is by using your credit cards and paying your bills on time. Finally, lots of credit cards offer purchase protection, which makes them the smarter payment method for big-ticket items.
Myth #2: Buy a home at all costs. It’s part of the American Dream: Go to college, land the perfect job, get married and buy a house, complete with white picket fence and two cars in the driveway.
Unfortunately, though, too many people are fixed on that dream without realizing that owning a home might not be in their best financial interests.
The real deal: For many people, including those who are not yet ready to put down roots or who anticipate a career change that necessitates moving across state lines, renting a home or apartment might be the better choice. It can also be a financially expedient option if you live in a super-expensive area.
Myth #3: Investing is only for rich people. Investing is for people who drive luxury vehicles and have homes in three different states.
Or is it?
The real deal: Anyone with a small pile of money squirreled away can get a foothold in the stock market. A smart investment strategy can be the best way to let your money grow and put you on the track to financial independence. If you’re a beginning investor, look into passively managed index funds for an easy way to start building your wealth.
Myth #4: My partner manages our finances, so I don’t need to think about money at all. Are you living in blissful financial oblivion, confident that your partner is managing your money?
The real deal: Every adult should have a handle on their family’s finances, regardless of their partner’s involvement. While it is fine for one partner to actively manage their money, it is crucial for both partners to be aware of the state of the family finances and to be capable of managing the household expenses and investments if something happens to their partner.
Myth #5: Credit cards will get me through any financial crisis. Why would I need an emergency fund? I have credit cards!
The real deal: Depending on credit cards to get you through a financial emergency is the perfect way to dig yourself into a deep pit of debt. Thanks to interest, you’ll be paying back a lot more than you spend. You’re also more likely to overspend when you pay with plastic.Credit cards should not be relied upon for a real financial emergency, such as a job loss, divorce or illness. It’s best to build an emergency fund consisting of three to six months’ worth of living expenses so you’re completely covered for the unexpected.
Myth #6: I’m so young; I don’t need to think about retirement. Who can think about retirement when it’s so far down the road because they’re just starting a career? Besides, who can afford to save for retirement when they’re bogged down with more pressing expenses, like saving for a house and putting kids through college?
The real deal: There’s no better time to start planning and saving for your retirement than right now. The younger you start building your retirement fund, the less you’ll have to put away each month, and the more you’ll save by the time you’re ready to retire. Gift yourself with a comfortable, stress-free retirement by maxing out your 401K contributions, and/or opening an IRA or another retirement fund. Start today and let compound interest work its magic!
Myth #7: I have enough in my account to cover my expenses so I don’t need to budget. Budgeting is for people who are barely squeaking through the month. I have enough money; so why budget?
The real deal: Budgeting is for everyone. Without a realistic budget in place, someone pulling in a salary in the high six digits can easily spend their way into debt. A budget will force you to make responsible money choices and to be fully aware of the state of your finances at all times.
Which money myths have you bought into in the past? Tell us all about it in the comments.
You Need A Budget: The Proven System For Breaking The Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle, Getting Out Of Debt, And Living The Life You Want
How do you budget? Do you follow the 50-30-20 rule? Are you careful to pay yourself first? Do you tweak your budget each month to suit current needs and then play catch-up when you inevitably fall behind?
Or maybe you’re one of the thousands of people across the globe who have embraced the You Need a Budget (YNAB) approach and changed your relationship with money forever.
The YNAB methodology was introduced years ago through specialized software and a series of lectures by its creator, Jesse Mecham. Now you can read all about this brilliant budgeting method in the Wall Street Journal’s bestseller, You Need a Budget. There’s no need to purchase software or attend classes to incorporate the YNAB platform; it works perfectly well with an old-fashioned spreadsheet or even paper and pencil.
YNAB stands apart from most budgeting advice because of its innate flexibility. While traditional budgeting wisdom advocates using specific percentages of your income for different spending categories, Mecham is careful not to tell you what to do with your money. Instead, he encourages readers to design their own plans using YNAB’s Four Rules:
Give Every Dollar A Job. Designate a specific task for all the money you earn.
Embrace Your True Expenses. Budget for expected, but irregular, expenses like car repairs, insurance premiums and holidays. By building these into your budget, the large, occasional bills won’t throw you for a loop.
Roll With The Punches. Life is inherently dynamic, and your budget must follow suit. A flexible budget is sustainable and realistic.
Age Your Money. When you incorporate the first three rules, you’ll start having more funds to spare. Learn to stretch the time between earning a dollar and spending it so you can shatter the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle for good.
In You Need a Budget, Mecham examines those rules in detail while exploring the priorities that might be shaping your budget. He talks about budgeting as a couple, sharing expenses and teaching your kids about money management and financial responsibility. The book is packed with actionable advice and tips, and is sprinkled with personal accounts of people who have embraced the YNAB approach to budgeting.
Some readers don’t like the fact that the last of the four rules has been changed from “Live on Last Month’s Income” to “Age Your Money.” They claim the old rule was more measurable and effective and that the new one is too vague and harder to implement.
Most readers, though, find the book to be fascinating and transformative. If you’re wondering why thousands of people are avid followers of the YNAB budgeting platform, and you’re longing to stop living hand-to-mouth, read this book.
Your Turn: Do you follow the YNAB approach to budgeting? Share your experience with us in the comments.
Don’t hit the brakes on your summer road trip plans just because of sticker shock at the pump. Use these gasoline pricing apps to help you find the cheapest nearby options, keeping your budget on full all summer long!
1.) GasBuddy This highly rated app is a favorite among 70 million users for good reason. GasBuddy allows you to search for gas stations near any ZIP code or city and then finds you the station with the cheapest gasoline. You can filter the options the app brings up by brand, price or location. You can also search for gas stations that have additional features, like restrooms, eateries and car washes.
Best features GasBuddy takes its mission of saving you money very seriously. Sign up for the app’s loyalty program and you can save $0.15/gallon for your first pump and $0.05/gallon on every subsequent refuel. Enjoy additional perks by reporting price changes to help the app keep its information current. You can also sign up for daily alerts about price drops–and hikes–in your area.
The cost-free app also allows you to search according to very specific criteria, including the type of gas you need, such as diesel or premium unleaded. This can save you a frustrating trip to a gas station that can’t actually help you fill ‘er up.
Glaring glitches GasBuddy depends on user input to maintain its accuracy, but correcting price listings on the app can be tedious. Of course, you can ignore all the app’s mistakes, but then you’ll only be contributing to its inaccuracy.
GasGuru offers users a more streamlined interface than similar apps. Data is plucked off the Oil Price Information Service instead of being shared by users, so you don’t have to bother with updating gas prices after you pull into a station. The free app offers a super-comprehensive list of gas stations near your current location and places you often visit so you can determine whether it’s cheaper to fill up near your home or your workplace. Filter your search by fuel type and look up eateries, repair shops and more on the app.
Best Features Say you’re out of town on a business trip and you need to refuel. You find the best-priced gas station in the area that meets your needs, but you have no idea how to get there! GasGuru makes it simple with an automatic navigation option. Just hit the “Get Directions” icon near a listed gas station and the app instantly launches Google Maps to show the way. Also, GasGuru uses just 3MB while still offering a fantastic interface. Contrast this with other gas apps’ 20-30MB and you’ve got one small, but super-powerful app.
Glaring Glitches Despite its more professional approach toward obtaining gas prices, users complain that GasGuru’s listed prices are more often inaccurate than accurate. Another annoying aspect of the app is the fact that you can only view one category of locations at a time. Also, some users dislike the fact that GasGuru will not specify if the listed prices refer to cash or credit payments at the pump.
3.) Waze Yes, the app that has helped you get from point A to point B without getting lost more times than you can count is also a great resource for finding the cheapest gas. Just hit the Settings icon on the app, and then tap the Gas Stations option. You can now select a gas station brand or a type of gas you’d like to search for, and then sort your search by price, distance or brand. Of course, once you’ve found the station you want to use, Waze will show you how to get there as quickly as possible. Prices are updated constantly and are consistently accurate. Some stations even offer a “Waze-only” deal on their prices for users of the popular navigation app.
Best Features Waze makes it super-easy to find the gas station with the best price at the best location. As soon as you hit the search button, it’ll show you a list of nearby gas stations with the exact amount of minutes each choice is off your route. Pricing is also easy to see at a glance; Waze color-codes its list of stations so you can easily compare prices.
Waze keeps itself going with ads for eateries, coffee shops and all kinds of attractions you happen to be passing on your way to your destination. Some users find these ads to be incredibly intrusive.
How they stack up
Your Turn: What’s your favorite gasoline price finder app? Tell us about it in the comments!