Summer is almost over, and you’re staring down the barrel of another long year. Work, school, winter — it’s all screaming for you to take one last summer vacation. And if you’re like a lot of people, that has you reaching for your credit cards.
But before you pull out the plastic, you might want to explore some alternative ways to fund your trip that don’t include double-digit interest rates. A little time or creativity could save you a lot of money in financing your last-minute getaway.
Why Paying for Your Vacation With a Credit Card Is a Bad Idea
When it comes to getting yourself to a nice resort, credit cards should be your last resort. It’s likely one of the most expensive options, considering that the average credit card interest rate as of July 22 stands at 15.00% APR, according to CreditCards.com.
That means that your already pricey hotel room could suddenly be 15 percent more. Same with the rental car, the surfboard rental and the margarita. That translates into an extra $750 on a $5,000 last-minute vacation — and that’s assuming you pay it off in one year.
Vacation Payment Options Beyond Credit Cards
With that said, it’s time to find a less expensive way to take a last-minute summer vacation. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Get a New Credit Card
You might be thinking: “You want me to get a new credit card to avoid charging my vacation on my current credit card?” Exactly, but only if it’s the right one.
There are many credit cards that want your business so badly they’re willing to charge no interest for a year or longer. So if you think you can pay off your vacation balance within that time, it can be a great deal.
There is a catch, however. Credit card companies know that about half of these customers will miss a payment and the normal high interest rate will kick in, said Ken Lin, CEO of CreditKarma.com. “So if you don’t have a great track record of paying your bills on time, and your cash flow is a little questionable, be careful,” he advised. “But if you’ve got good discipline, then you can save money.”
You might think that the instant you tell a lender that you’re planning to take their money, fly far away and spend freely on spa treatments, snorkel tours and sangritas they will quickly reach for their “Denied” stamp. But in fact, there are many lenders who offer vacation and travel loans.
Vacation loans will often come with a higher interest rate than other loans. But some recent rates have been as low as 9.90% APR at some credit unions, which tend to offer some of the lowest rates in general since they are typically not-for-profit. Vacation loans can have restricted terms, such as a 36-month term or $10,000 limit. And while the rate won’t beat your home mortgage, it might beat your credit card.
Unsecured Personal Loans
If you’ve been with the same bank or credit union for a number of years or you have good to excellent credit, you might be able to qualify for a personal loan. Personal loans almost always have a lower interest rate than your credit card, said Sally Black, founder of VacationKids.com.
These loans also might have longer terms, such as up to 60 months, for repayment. Personal loan rates at Citi, for instance, were listed as low as 10.74% APR. But rates could be as high as 22.24% APR for those who don’t qualify for the best rates.
One final point: If you’re picturing yourself in the islands by the end of the week, your plans might hit a snag. Black said that the application and approval process for personal loans could take weeks.
Peer-to-Peer Personal Loans
Peer-to-peer sites such as LendingClub, LendingTree and Prosper offer investor-funded loans that often come with great rates for those with good or excellent credit. For instance, Prosper recently advertised five-year personal loans up to $35,000 at 5.99% APR for those with a credit score of 650 or more, according to ConsumersAdvocate.org. That’ll buy a pretty nice vacation.
These sites also make it easy to shop rates to get the best deal for your needs. The application process is done online and if you are approved, often you’ll have the money within a week, said Black.
Home Equity Loan
If you own your home and you have some equity in it, you could consider taking out a home equity loan. The difference between this and a home equity line of credit (HELOC) is that home equity loans usually have a fixed interest rate. The downside of a home equity loan is the paperwork, said Black. Like a HELOC and personal loans, it might take up to four weeks to get your money. By then, the sun might be setting on your chance at getting away to the tropics.
Home Equity Line of Credit
There are many uses for a HELOC, and it’s another way to fund a last-minute getaway that’s likely less expensive than your credit card. Since HELOCs are secured by your home, you should be able to find good rates. For instance, Chase recently advertised rates as low as 3.50% APR. You should know, however, that most HELOCs have variable interest rates that might go up with time, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
We know what you’re saying: “Who the heck is going to want to fund my vacation?” Your family and friends, that’s who. Maybe you have a birthday coming up. Maybe an anniversary. Maybe you’re just cool. The point is, there are a few sites that do the legwork for you. One example is MyTab.co.
Just like with a wedding registry, you create an account and your friends and family chip in — money, not china (unless you’re going to China). “If their vacation is coming up within those two weeks, they can ask friends and family to gift them travel cash,” said Heddi Cundle, founder of the site. “And they’ll see the gifted money accumulate in their pot to spend on this last-minute trip.”
Other Last-Minute, Affordable Vacation Options
If you’ve run through all the above options without any luck but just have to get away, there is one final way to lower how much you’ll have to pay off on your credit card: a less expensive vacation. But before you despair, here are a few pointers.
“Often travelers can find great last-minute cruise deals,” said Black. And since, according to a 2014 Cruise Line International Association study, 75 percent of North American vacationers live within the 30 cruise port cities, you might be able to cut out the expensive airfare and rental car as well.
Plus, cruises are usually all-inclusive and a much better deal than you might imagine. According to a 2014 U.S. News report, a four-day Western Caribbean cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines ran as low as $124 per person, plus taxes and port fees. That price included meals and entertainment, too.
But of course, that price doesn’t include that credit card interest. If you’re determined to take a last-minute summer vacation, weigh all options before using your credit card to pay for the trip.
From GoBankingRates.com: How to Fund a Last-Minute Summer Vacation Without Credit Cards