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Understanding the Role of the Real Estate Agent

Not sure you need an agent to help with your real estate transaction? Here are seven ways they bring value you might be missing out on.

The road to homeownership can be bumpy, and it’s often filled with unexpected turns and detours. That’s why it makes sense to have a real estate pro help guide the way.

While real estate websites and mobile apps can help you identify houses you may be interested in, an experienced agent does much more, including:

1. Guide. Before you tour your first home, your agent will take time to learn more about your wants, needs, preferences, budget and motivation. A good real estate agent will help you narrow your search and identify your priorities.

2. Educate. You should expect your agent to provide data on the local home market and comparable sales. The home-buying process can be complicated. A good agent will explain the steps involved – in a manner that makes them understandable – and provide counsel along the way.

3. Network. An agent who is familiar with your target neighborhoods will often know about homes that are for sale – even before they’re officially listed. Experienced agents tend to know other agents in the area and have good working relationships with them; this can lead to smooth transactions. Your agent may also be able to refer you to trusted professionals including lenders, home inspectors and contractors.

4. Advocate. When you work with a buyer’s agent, their fiduciary responsibility is to you. That means you have an expert who is looking out for your best financial interests, an expert who’s contractually bound to do everything in their power to protect you. If you find yourself in a situation where the same agent represents both the buyer and seller, things can get trickier, advises Scottsdale, Arizona-based real estate agent Dru Bloomfield.

“A lot of people think they’ll get a lower price by going straight to the listing agent, but that’s always not true,” she says. “If I was representing both the buyer and seller, I’d be hard-pressed to take a low-ball offer to the seller. But, as a buyer’s agent I’d do it, because I have no emotional ties or fiduciary responsibility to the seller. Buyers should work with an agent who can fully represent them.”

5. Negotiate. Your agent will handle the details of the negotiation process, including the preparation of all necessary offer and counteroffer forms. Once your inspection is done, the agent can also help you negotiate for repairs. Even the most reasonable consumers can become distraught when battling over repair requests; an agent can do “the ask” without becoming overly emotional.

6. Manage minutia. The paperwork that goes along with a real estate transaction can be exhaustive. If you forget to initial a clause or check a box, all those documents will need to be resubmitted. A good real estate agent understands the associated deadlines and details and can help you navigate these complex documents.

7. Look out. Any number of pitfalls can kill a deal as it inches toward closing; perhaps the title of the house isn’t clear, the lender hasn’t met the financing deadline or the seller has failed to disclose a plumbing problem. An experienced real estate agent knows to watch for trouble before it’s too late, and can skillfully deal with challenges as they arise.

Professional real estate agents do so much more than drive clients around to look at homes. Find an agent you trust and with whom you feel comfortable working; you’re sure to benefit from their experience, knowledge of the local market and negotiation skills.


Originally published July 21, 2014.

Source: zillow.com

How to Determine What You Can Afford for a Car

How much can you afford for a carHow much can you afford for a carYour dream car and the car that you can realistically afford can be two totally different things. If you are paying cash, then your car choice may not be a complicated one. However, if financing is your only option then how to determine what you can afford for a car becomes a crucial undertaking.

Ideally, you should go for a car whose monthly payments do not exceed what your income can handle. Your calculations also have to factor in the extra costs that go into buying a car as well as the operational expenses that you will encounter on a daily basis.

What’s an affordable car? How do you go about the calculations? Let’s find out.

Breaking Down your Car Budget

Apart from the price listed on a car, there are other costs that you should consider. These are expenses that you find out on your own and plan for; the car salesman won’t reveal them to you!

Up-sells and Cross-sells: The dealer will try to increase the displayed price, a strategy known as upselling. You will be enticed with features like extra body kits, chrome wheels, warranties, etc. Another common trick is being led to buy a different and more expensive brand or model; cross-selling. Avoid these extra costs by sticking to your first choice.

Dealership Fees: There will be registration fees, sales tax, and documentation fees. These are for you to bargain with the dealership. Such fees can drive the price up by around 10%.

Ownership Expenses: Once you own the car, other expenses start: insurance, maintenance, repairs, annual registration fees, depreciation and the like.

Gas is another major ownership expense that most people neglect to factor when making a purchase. Let’s use a Toyota Prius, a favorite for first-time owners as an example; it goes for around $20k plus a possible 5k to cover the other costs.

The car consumes about 44 miles per gallon. Data from Federal Highway Administration show that on average a driver covers 13,476 miles per year. This translates to around $907 per year at $2.96 per gallon (13,476 miles x $2.96 / 44 mpg).

True Cost of Owning a Car

After you have calculated the expected cost of the car you are looking for (plus the extra costs), your budget starts to take shape. Using the above example, you are looking at around $25,000 for a new car with a 5-year (60months) car loan. However, for the true cost of owning you need to factor gas expenses for the loan duration;

True cost of owning = Purchase + Other costs + Gas = $20,000 + $5000 + ($907 x 5) = $29,535

Can your Income Sustain the Monthly Payments?

With car financing, you will be repaying the loan on a monthly basis. So what’s the optimal percent of your monthly income that should go to the car? There is no specific answer to this since budgeting depends on your priorities.

Most experts, however, recommend that transportation should cost 10-15% of your net pay. This follows a 50/30/20 rule where 50% of your income goes to living needs, 30% to flexible spending and 20% to investments and other long-term financial goals. Your car is included in the ‘living needs’ category with the remainder of the 50% going to mortgage and utilities.

It’s upon you to ensure that your car loan repayments fall within the 10-15% range. For the Prius, the monthly cost will be around $493 (the total cost of owning/ 60 months). Hence your take-home pay should be at least $3290 for you to afford this car.

Monthly income= $493 x 100/15 = $3290 (assuming 15% of your pay is the car budget)    

Final Thought

Before you walk into a car dealership, do your homework on all the costs that will go into owning a car: Make use of free online calculators to get a rough idea of which car you can afford and understand all costs that may come with other deals like trade-ins. Lastly, negotiate your car loan for cheap rates, keep in mind that a longer loan term could mean a lower resale value by the time you have paid off the loan due to depreciation.

Source: creditabsolute.com

How to Create a Comprehensive Budget for Your Dream Wedding

Planning a wedding is a notoriously exciting and stressful experience. If you’re lucky enough to have a wedding on the horizon, you likely already know the tremendous amount of work that goes into creating the perfect wedding. No matter if you’re planning your wedding on the cheap or hoping for an extravagant destination wedding, the best place to start when planning your celebration is with the budget.

According to a recent survey, 45 percent of couples reported going over budget on their weddings in 2017. As the average wedding costs around $27,627, the costs of overspending on the scale of a wedding can be steep. Learning how to budget for your wedding can help you avoid going into debt and have some money left over for a nice honeymoon. Your wedding should be a time of celebration and happiness, so follow these steps to get the hard parts of budgeting out of the way first thing.

5 No-Stress Steps to Budget For Your Wedding

1. Figure Out How Much You Can Spend

Similar to creating a regular budget, you’ll need to start by calculating you and your partner’s net income. Next, figure out how much you can save each month by subtracting your monthly expenses from your total income. This includes everything from utility bills to date nights out, so be as thorough as you can. Once you’ve figured out how much you usually have left over to put towards your wedding, you may find you need to cut some unnecessary expenses to save more money in time for your wedding.

When it comes to family members’ contributions to the celebration, don’t be shy about asking exactly how much each set of parents is willing to contribute. On average, the bride’s parents paid for 44.5 percent of wedding costs last year. Each family’s financial situation will be different, but getting a specific range or number of what family members are comfortable contributing will help you create your wedding budget and make sure everyone’s happy with their level of involvement.

2. Set Your Priorities

Talk with your partner about what you think is the most important aspect of your wedding. There will likely be expenses that you have to compromise on, but for the most part this will help you to spend less on things neither of you cares about, and make the most of what you do want. You and your partner should each list your top three priorities, and then compare lists. Even if your priorities don’t exactly match, talk about why each component is important to you. You may realize you want different things for the same reasons.

For example, if you think having excellent food is the most important part of the wedding and your partner thinks a great band is essential for a good time, you may find that you both want guests to have a fantastic experience. Talking through your wants reveals you both want to provide good food and a fun atmosphere for your guests.

3. Prepare for Surprises

One of the reasons so many couples go over their wedding budget isn’t necessarily because they weren’t trying to stay on track, but because countless costs can pop up unexpectedly. Sometimes guests forget to RSVP until the last minute, so plan extra seats and dinner plates for the reception. In addition, you may find that the most affordable venues, caterers, or bands are unavailable for your wedding date and you end up needing to spend more on alternatives. Either way, the critical thing to remember is to leave some cushion in your budget if possible.

Keep in mind also that vendors may require additional payment for services that you assumed were included in their package. Photographers may have additional fees for giving you access to your photos online, while venues may charge a break-down fee after the wedding. Read the contracts with your vendors, musicians, makeup artists, and venue carefully so no charges sneak up on you.

4. Find Ways to Save

There are many ways to save on your wedding, from DIYing, getting help from your friends, or just being savvy and shopping around. Give yourself enough time when planning your wedding to comparison shop vendors, dresses, bands, and everything else you need. It’s common for vendors to increase their rates for weddings because they know couples typically spend a lot of money. If the vendor gets the sense you’re in a hurry, they may raise their rates because they know you don’t have the time to look elsewhere.

Keep in mind the season when you plan your wedding. You may find that having a wedding in an off month like December will make it easier for you to save on venues and services because this is one of the least busy months. Certain times of day or week are often much less expensive, too. Fridays or Sundays in the afternoon may save you thousands if you don’t care about when you have your wedding.

Don’t let the small details get to you. Couples who fixate on the color of the lights at the venue or the type of chairs at the reception can end up paying thousands of extra dollars for these details to be changed out when no one will be paying much attention to them anyways.

5. Keep Yourself Accountable

Try using a spreadsheet or a budgeting app to keep track of every expense for the wedding. Since the process of planning a wedding can take a long time, even the occasional expense that goes unaccounted for can quickly add up and leave you wondering where a large chunk of your money went. Every time you pay for a cake tasting or send a batch of invitations, don’t forget to record that expense and add it to the running total. This way, you can see how you’re doing towards your budget at any time.

You can also categorize your budget by food, venue, and services. By doing this, you can adapt your budget as expenses rise. If you find yourself spending too much on catering, you may decide to leave out the videographer after all. Either way, keep track of your spending so that you remain responsible for staying under budget.

How Much Should You Spend?

Every wedding budget will vary depending on what you and your partner care about the most. Keeping in mind what most couples spend can help you stay on track — and help you know what to expect. To figure out how much you should be spending on each category, first set aside around 5 percent of your total budget for surprise expenses, and then account for the largest expenses at your wedding.

The venue is usually one of the largest expenses and takes up around 40 percent of the typical wedding budget. However, just because it is one of the most significant expenses doesn’t mean you should necessarily spend everything on your dream venue. With larger venues, your guest list may increase, and with more people, your food and drink costs can quickly multiply out of control. Keeping your location cost at less than half of your total budget will ensure you have enough to pay for everything that goes into your venue as well. To reduce your venue costs to zero, consider having a backyard wedding or a wedding at a friend or family member’s home.

The photographer or videographer is often the next most substantial cost. If you want professional photographs and videos of your wedding, this will cost around 16 percent of your total budget. Wedding photographers often offer multiple services at different rates, which can help keep the costs in a range you’re comfortable with. Consider taking just a few group photos to keep your costs low. If documentation is essential to you, you can opt for multiple photographers capturing every moment and a convenient digital album.

The cost of food and drink may often eclipse the cost of the photographer depending on your guest list, tastes, and whether you decide to have an open bar. The average wedding budget allocates around 10 percent for food. This can vary greatly depending on how large your wedding is and how many options you provide your guests. To save money consider offering a few delicious staples and a limited drink menu.

What’s the Average Cost of a Wedding?

Here’s another look at how you might break down the costs of your wedding. Consider copying the percentages into a spreadsheet to help get your budget-tracking started:

  • Venue: 40% – Average Cost: $15,163
  • Dress: 5% – Average Cost: $1,509
  • Decor: 8% – Average Cost: $2,379
  • Food: 10% – Average Cost: $70 per person
  • Photographer/Videographer: 16% – Average Cost: $4,542
  • Hair and Makeup: 3% – Average Cost: $966
  • Music: 3% – Average Cost: $1,000
  • Wedding Planner: 6% – Average Cost: $1,988
  • Miscellaneous expenses: 6% – Average Cost: $1,900
  • Transportation: 2% – Average Cost: $830
  • Invitations and Stationary: 1% – Average Cost: $408

Tips to Stay Under Budget

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Save time and money by reaching out to your friends and family for assistance. Ask your bridesmaids or groomsmen to help stuff envelopes for your invitations or put together centerpieces for the tables.  
  • Keep track of how much you’ve already spent. If you’re starting a budget for the first time halfway through the process or lose track of how much you’ve spent, go back through your receipts and bank statements to account for everything you’ve already bought.
  • Budget for demos. One of the great perks about planning a wedding is tasting some of the best cake and appetizers out there for free. However, you may be asked to pay the vendors if you change your mind and need multiple sessions. Sometimes the samples from the caterer or florist are not free, so make sure to keep those costs in mind to avoid any surprises.
  • Cut the guest list. While reducing the number of invites can be very hard to do, this can also make the most significant impact on cost. Eliminate guests you haven’t spoken to since high school and don’t feel pressured to invite someone you don’t really know. Try limiting children and plus-ones to reduce the numbers even further.
  • Check which local flowers are in season. Request flowers for the bouquets and any decor that are in season to prevent any exorbitant shipping costs for greenery that can’t be grown near you. Not only will this save you money, but it will also ensure the flowers at your ceremony or reception are fresher.
  • Ask for help instead of gifts. Many friends and family are happy to provide services like baking a wedding cake or doing your photography in place of a wedding present, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your invitees that have a helpful skill.
  • Reduce rates by displaying vendor cards. Ask your vendors if they would offer a discount if you advertised their business at your wedding. Vendors may lower their rates if you simply display a tasteful business card or placard next to the food or floral arrangements.
  • Get more from one vendor. Try to find a vendor that offers multiple services, as bundling your costs together will save you money. A wedding planner who is also happy to take care of printing your invitations will save you more money than going through two different companies.
  • Change your style. Black-tie weddings require a more expensive venue and extravagant decor. Save money on every aspect by going for a cozier feel with less expensive accents. You can also make DIYing your centerpieces easier for yourself if you go for a creative mix-and-match vibe.

While planning your wedding can be a stressful and time-consuming experience, putting in the extra effort up front to set a budget will make the process a lot easier. As an added plus, your budgeting and organization skills for your life will no doubt improve. No matter if you plan a wedding based on the national averages or your wedding is completely unconventional, the important thing to remember is that you get to decide what matters to you most on your wedding day. If you focus on the people and experiences that make you happy, you’ll be sure to have your own dream wedding.

Sources: HereComesTheGuide | Brides.com | TheKnot | WeddingWire | TheKnot

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