Top 10 Fun Things to Do When Visiting Miami

Sure, you could spend an entire Miami vacation just relaxing on the beach, people-watching, and sipping cold drinks.

But there’s so much to explore in the Magic City, you also could build an almost limitless list of fun things to do in Miami. In fact, you may have trouble narrowing it all down to a manageable itinerary of absolute must-sees — whether you’re visiting on your own, as a couple, or with friends or family.

You could have an amazing time just focusing on bucket-list items, like going to Little Havana or strolling the Miami Beach Boardwalk. Or you might use your time to take in Miami’s renowned architecture or to go shopping or history hunting.

The best answer may well be to mix it up and sample the sunny outdoors, the arts, plus some of the great food and nightlife. So here is a curated list of seasoned travelers’ tips and picks for the top things to do in Miami, Florida. Get ready for an amazing adventure.

Best Times to Go to Miami

Springtime is probably the best time to visit Miami — if you don’t mind the crowds — followed closely by December through February. The weather is typically warm, but you’ll avoid the heat and humidity.

You may find there’s a festival or two you’ll want to base your visit around. If you travel in March, for example, you can enjoy Carnaval Miami events, like the Calle Ocho Music Festival or Art on the Drive. And in December, the Art Basel international art fair comes to town.

Bad Times to Go to Miami

There really isn’t a wrong time to go to Miami. The beach is always there, after all. But if heat, humidity, rain, and the potential for hurricanes aren’t your thing, you may want to avoid summer travel to Miami or planning a vacation for the summer or early fall.

Average Cost of a Miami Vacation

The cost of a vacation in Miami can vary significantly, depending on how long you stay, when and where you stay, and how you get there. (And, of course, you might lower the price tag by using credit card miles or cash back.)

Travel sites generally put the average cost of a weeklong trip at about $1,200 to $2,450 for an individual and $2,300 to $4,600 for a couple. (If you’re traveling with your kids or traveling with pets, the cost could be significantly more.)

Here are just a few of the costs you may want to consider when budgeting for your trip (and when you’re figuring out how to make the most of your credit card rewards):

Getting There

Roundtrip airfare to Miami can average from $200 to $600 or more, based on where you’re flying from and when you’re traveling. (Don’t forget to look at how credit card travel insurance works, just in case your flight is canceled, your luggage gets lost, or some other mishap occurs.) Driving could end up costing about the same, or even more, if you have to stop at a hotel for a night or two.

Accommodations

If you’re willing to stay at a budget hotel or a hotel or rental that’s outside the more popular areas of the city, you may be able to save some serious money in this category. Otherwise, you can expect to pay about $150 to $700 or more (much more) per night for a mid-range to luxury hotel on your Miami trip.

Transportation

Though much of Miami is walkable, to conveniently get around to everything you want to see, you may want to rent a car. A mid-size SUV could cost about $21 to $66 per day, and a convertible can be about $65 per day.

Dining

The average spend per person for food in Miami can range from $30 to $100 per day. But your food bill may go up or down (just like at home) based on how often you dine out, the restaurants you choose, and whether you drink tap water or an excellent bottle of wine. A couple of street tacos or a fast-food meal, for example, could cost less than $10, while a meal in a nice restaurant like Joe’s Stone Crab might be $100 or more per person.

Sightseeing

There are many free things to do in Miami, and admission to most museums and other attractions generally costs $25 or less for an adult.

Recommended: Where to Keep a Travel Fund

10 Fun Must-Dos in Miami

There’s so much to do in and around Miami, it could be a challenge to squeeze it all into one week—or even two or three weeks. But if you go in with a plan having pre-selected some must-see destinations, you can improve the chances that you’ll get to your fair share of fun activities.

To help get you started, here’s a list of 10 cool things to do in Miami, compiled from dozens of travel sites, blogs, and “best of” lists, plus advice from savvy travelers.

1. Check Out the South Beach Scene

You’ve seen it in movies. You’ve read about it in books. When most people think about Miami, they probably picture the iconic South Beach area. There’s plenty there to explore, from the beautiful, expansive beach to the Art Deco buildings, trendy boutiques, and top-rated bars and restaurants. And the free South Beach Trolley loops around the neighborhood from 8 am to 11 pm seven days a week. It’s a popular area, so expect to find crowds, especially when the weather is at its best.

2. Take a Tour of Little Havana

You can book a bus tour or walking tour of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood to get the full story on its food and cultural diversity. Or you can settle in with a mojito at one of the excellent restaurants there, then wander over to watch a dominos or chess match at Domino Park at the corner of Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) and 15th Avenue.

3. Check Out the Wynwood Arts District

Another top thing to do in Miami: You can take in the street art for free in the super-cool Wynwood Arts District. Then, for more cutting-edge art, buy a ticket to see the Wynwood Walls outdoor museum. Artists from around the world have covered the museum’s abandoned warehouse walls with graffiti and street art. The district is also home to several art galleries, a variety of well-reviewed restaurants, and chic, high-end shopping. thewynwoodwalls.com/

4. Do Some Time-Traveling at HistoryMiami

HistoryMiami is celebrating 80 years of providing access to archives and artifacts that bring South Florida’s stories to life. You can visit the museum’s permanent and rotating exhibitions to get a true feel for the area’s history and heritage, and its evolution. historymiami.org

5. Linger at the Lush Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

If you’re a fan of flowers, butterflies, and all things green, a trip to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is a must. Its horticultural collections include tropical fruit trees, orchids, palms, and Florida native plants; and while you’re there, you can wander over to the Wings of the Tropics exhibit to see hundreds of spectacular butterflies fluttering about. The museum hosts several family-friendly festivals and other events throughout the year, including the mouth-watering Bacon & BBQ Classic in June. fairchildgarden.org/

Recommended: How Families Can Afford to Travel

6. Miami Beach Boardwalk

The scenic Miami Beach Boardwalk (sometimes referred to as the South Beach Boardwalk) is a favorite with tourists and locals alike. The pathway starts at the southern point of South Beach and stretches seven miles along the ocean to the Surfside border in North Beach. Or you can venture off the boardwalk onto Lincoln Road and explore the popular shopping district there.

You also may want to build a visit to New World Center into your itinerary and take in a movie or concert from the lawn of SoundScape Park. miamibeachboardwalk.com and nws.edu/events-tickets/wallcast-concerts-and-park-events

7. Go Birding in Barnacle Historic State Park

If you’re ready for something a little outside the city, you might want to take a drive over to Coconut Grove and visit The Barnacle Historic State Park. The park’s location and landscaping attract herons, pelicans, kingfishers, and other shorebirds. While there, you also can take a guided tour of the Munroe House Museum, located on the shore of Biscayne Bay, to get an idea of what life was like for pioneer and sailor Ralph Middleton Munroe in the late-1800s. Picnics are allowed on the lawn, and events are scheduled throughout the year at the museum and park. floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/barnacle-historic-state-park

8. Enjoy Miami’s Exhilarating Nightlife

Miami has a little bit of everything when you’re ready to head out at night, from comedy, improv, and karaoke clubs to nightclubs with rooftop lounges, live music, and dancing, to neighborhood pubs where you can sample a microbrew and watch the ballgame on a big screen. Keep in mind that if you’re heading to a nightclub, there will likely be a dress code that just says no to flip-flops, ball caps, tank tops, and shorts.

9. Tour the Art Deco District

If you’re an architecture buff or just like to look at cool old buildings, you may want to spend some time in Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District. You can take a guided or self-guided walking tour of the district’s lovingly restored buildings. Then learn more about Miami Beach’s Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern design styles at the Art Deco Museum and Welcome Center. miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/art-deco-historic-district

10. Take a Walk on the Wild Side at the Shark Valley Loop

The 15.4-mile Shark Valley Loop Trail is one of the highlights of the vast Everglades National Park and worth the trip if you’re up for a bit of a drive. (It’s about 30 miles west of the city.) You can hike or bike the trail to get a close-up look at Florida’s wild side, or you can take a two-hour guided tram tour from the Shark Valley Visitors Center. nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/shark-valley-tamiami.htm

Insider Tips

Now that you know some of the best things to do in Miami, consider these insider tips that might help improve your trip, including:

A Little Bit About Location

To make your trip to Miami more manageable, you may want to keep your sightseeing priorities in mind when choosing your accommodations. You’ll likely save money on hotels or rentals outside the city or farther from the beach. However, traffic in the area can be challenging, and you could spend a large part of your visit just trying to get to the attractions you hope to see. If your homebase is closer in, you can take advantage of the walkability in many popular tourist areas.

Make the Most of the Fresh Seafood

If you love seafood, you’ll love dining in Miami, where you can get your favorite fish sandwich, fish tacos, scallops, shrimp, stone crab claws, clams, and lobster just about anywhere and at any time of day.

Your choices will range from cutting-edge food trucks to elegant eateries, with menu items at all price points. For a special night out, consider Joe’s Stone Crab in South Beach, which is famous for both its food and the service. Joe’s is best known for its stone crab claws and another Florida favorite: Key lime pie.

Plan How You’ll Pay

It can be a good idea to bring cash, your debit card, and a couple of different credit cards to pay for various things during your trip to Miami. You also may want to bring at least one travel credit card so you can get rewarded for qualifying purchases.

The Takeaway

Miami is a super-popular destination for a variety of very good reasons: Great weather, gorgeous beaches, amazing architecture and attractions, as well as terrific food and drink. If you decide to travel there, there are plenty of incredible sights to see, or you can have fun just lounging by the sea or a pool. That’s part of what makes Miami such a great destination for solo voyagers, couples, friends, and families to visit.

Whether you want to travel more or get a better ROI for your travel dollar, SoFi can help. SoFi Travel is a new service exclusively for SoFi members that lets you budget, plan, and book your next trip in a convenient one-stop shop. SoFi takes the guessing game out of how much you can afford for that honeymoon, family vacation, or quick getaway — and we help you save too.


FAQ

Is it helpful to know some Spanish when vacationing in Miami?

You won’t need to take a language course to get around Miami successfully, but knowing a few popular phrases could be useful, including hola (hello), gracias (thank you), ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?), and ¿Dónde está? (Where is it?).

What are the best things to do in Miami Beach on a rainy day?

Although much of Miami is built around South Florida’s beautiful weather, there are also plenty of museums and galleries to visit if it’s raining or too hot and humid.

What are some things to do in Miami for couples?

Walking the beaches and enjoying the nightlife in Miami are about as romantic as it gets. A visit to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (vizcaya.org/) will provide lush grounds and gardens to explore and plenty of photo opportunities too.


Photo credit: iStock/Gian Lorenzo Ferretti Photography


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When you use your SoFi Credit Card to make a purchase on the SoFi Travel Portal, you will earn a number of SoFi Member Rewards points equal to 3% of the total amount you spend on the SoFi Travel Portal. Members can save up to 10% or more on eligible bookings.


Eligibility: You must be a SoFi registered user.
You must agree to SoFi’s privacy consent agreement.
You must book the travel on SoFi’s Travel Portal reached directly through a link on the SoFi website or mobile application. Travel booked directly on Expedia's website or app, or any other site operated or powered by Expedia is not eligible.
You must pay using your SoFi Credit Card.

SoFi Member Rewards: All terms applicable to the use of SoFi Member Rewards apply. To learn more please see: https://www.sofi.com/rewards/ and Terms applicable to Member Rewards.


Additional Terms: Changes to your bookings will affect the Rewards balance for the purchase. Any canceled bookings or fraud will cause Rewards to be rescinded. Rewards can be delayed by up to 7 business days after a transaction posts on Members’ SoFi Credit Card ledger. SoFi reserves the right to withhold Rewards points for suspected fraud, misuse, or suspicious activities.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.



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What Is a FICO Score? FICO Score vs Credit Score

What Is a FICO Score? FICO Score vs Credit Score

When applying for a form of credit such as a personal loan or credit card, applicants likely have their credit score top of mind. As they review their different credit scores, they may wonder: What’s the difference between a FICO score and a credit score?

Put simply, a FICO score is simply a type of credit score that uses the FICO credit scoring model. A credit score is essentially a generic term, whereas a FICO score is a credit score created by a specific brand.

What Is a FICO Score?

A FICO Score is a type of credit score that’s created by the Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO). It’s a very popular form of credit score, and many companies rely on it when determining the creditworthiness of applicants.

Not all lenders use FICO score models though, as some use their own credit scoring models or rely on a score made by one of FICO’s competitors.

Is a FICO Score the Same as a Credit Score?

The main difference between FICO scores and credit scores is that FICO credit scores are only offered by the brand FICO, as this particular score relies on FICO’s specific credit scoring model. A credit score, on the other hand, is a generic term referring to scores created by any model, as all credit scores are backed by a credit scoring model.

Essentially, what many credit scores do is predict how likely someone is to make their debt payments on time. FICO scores specifically predict how likely it is that someone will fall 90 days behind on a payment within the next 24 months. This credit limit is determined based on a complex algorithm that uses information from credit reports made for each consumer by the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). FICO occasionally updates how it determines its scores and releases new versions of the FICO Score.

The higher someone’s credit score is — no matter where the credit score comes from — the higher credit limit and the less likely they are to miss a debt payment. The more reliable a borrower appears to be based on their credit score, the better terms a lender is likely to offer them. A lower interest rate, for instance, can lead to savings, as demonstrated by this personal loan calculator.

FICO Score vs Credit Score: Which Is Better?

A FICO score is not inherently better or worse than a credit score. The term credit score applies to the general concept of the score that comes from a credit scoring model. The FICO Score is simply a brand-name version of a credit score.

All lenders get to decide if they want to use their own internal credit scoring models or one from a brand like VantageScore or a FICO credit score. However, none of the different types of credit scores is necessarily better than the other.

FICO vs VantageScore

As briefly noted before, there are other brands that offer other credit scores to lenders. VantageScore is one of FICO’s main competitors. Like a FICO credit score, VantageScore relies on information from the three major credit bureaus’ credit reports to determine scores.

Both FICO Score and VantageScore give higher credit scores to more creditworthy individuals and their credit rating scales range from 300 to 850. Where these two scoring models differ is in how they determine their scores.

With different FICO scores, there are five categories of information that make up the overall credit score, and each category is given a different weight:

•   Payment history: 35%

•   Credit utilization rate: 30%

•   Length of credit history: 15%

•   Mix of your credit accounts: 10%

•   New credit accounts: 10%

VantageScore, on the other hand, uses six different categories, but doesn’t assign specific weights using a percentage. Instead, VantageScore places a different level of influence on each category:

•   Payment history: Extremely influential

•   Credit utilization: Highly influential

•   Length of credit history and mix of credit accounts: Highly influential

•   Amounts owed: Moderately influential

•   Recent credit behavior: Less influential

•   Available credit: Less influential

Why Is a FICO Score Important and What Is It Used for?

FICO credit scores play an important role when it comes to borrowing money. This is because an applicant’s FICO score indicates how likely they are to make their debt payments on time. The more likely someone is to repay their loan, the less of a risk they pose to lenders.

Because of this, a high credit score is helpful if you want to get approved for a personal loan or a credit card, among other types of loans. Lenders use FICO scores and other types of credit scores to determine how much money to lend someone, how long they have to pay their loan back, and how high their interest rate should be.

What Affects Your FICO Score?

A handful of different factors affect a consumer’s FICO score. The most important among those is payment history. Someone who consistently makes on-time payments will have a higher score, which is why prompt payment is critical to accessing top credit cards and leveraging common uses for personal loans down the road.

The next most important factor affecting a FICO score is how much of available credit someone is using. Using up a lot of one’s available credit indicates to top lenders that a borrower is overextended and may not be able to afford new loan payments.

Someone’s length of credit history also plays a role, and having a longer credit history can help give someone’s FICO score a boost. Having a good credit mix made up of different types of credit — like installment loans, retail accounts, auto loans, and mortgage loans — is also taken into consideration, as is how recently someone opened new credit.

How Do I Get a FICO Score?

Getting a FICO score is easy. Consumers typically can access their FICO score through lenders, credit card issuers, credit bureaus, and select financial institutions.

Because the FICO Score is such a popular credit report, some consumers may want to know what their FICO Score is before they apply for a new form of credit, such as a type of personal loan. That way, they can get an idea of whether they may qualify and under what terms.

The Takeaway

The FICO score is simply a type of credit score that utilizes a credit scoring model from the brand FICO. Many lenders choose to use the FICO score when deciding which applicants to lend money to and what terms to offer them — including how much interest to charge them. That being said, some lenders choose to use use industry specific scores, competitor models, or their own internal models to determine who they want to lend money to.

Before applying for a personal loan, it’s important to make sure you know where your credit score stands. For those who aren’t sure what type of interest rates they may qualify for, SoFi is here to help. With SoFi, you can find what interest rates you qualify for within 60 seconds, and with no commitment required. From there, you can complete your application and receive funds as soon as the same day.

SoFi’s Personal Loan was named NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Personal Loan overall.


Photo credit: iStock/Lyndon Stratford

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Bank, N.A., NMLS #696891 (Member FDIC). For additional product-specific legal and licensing information, see SoFi.com/legal. Equal Housing Lender.


Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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How to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards for Travel

How to Maximize Your Credit Card Rewards for Travel

There are so many different credit cards on the market, it can be hard to decide which one to apply for. If you like to travel and are always daydreaming about your next trip, you may want to consider a travel credit card. These cards can offer travel-related benefits, such as enhanced hotel or airline status, free upgrades, or no charge for baggage. Travel credit cards also earn rewards that you can use to offset the cost of travel.

However, deciding what type of card to get and using your credit cards rewards for travel can be complicated. The same holds true for learning how to maximize your rewards once you do settle on which plastic you want.

Here, some guidance to help you maximize your credit card rewards for travel, including:

•   How to find the best credit card for travel rewards

•   How to use rewards for travel

•   How to get the most out of your travel credit card

Types of Credit Card Rewards for Travel

Credit card rewards come in several types. When it comes to using rewards for travel, consider these options to find what best suits your needs:

•   Airline points and miles cards: With these credit cards, you typically earn miles or points on purchases made with the card. These can be redeemed with the particular airline’s rewards programs. Examples of airline credit cards include the Citi AAdvantage Mastercard and United Explorer Card.

•   Hotel credit cards: With this kind of travel credit card, you typically rack up points that can be used for rewards (such as upgrades or free nights) at a particular hotel chain. For instance, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, Hilton Honors American Express Card, and IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card are all examples of these co-branded cards.

•   Flexible currency cards: With these cards, you are not locked into a single airline or hotel chain. The points/miles and rewards you earn can be transferred to different programs, via Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Membership Rewards.

You might use a conventional rewards credit card that earns cash back and lets you redeem your rewards for cash in the form of a statement credit, bank transfer, or check. You can then apply this toward travel-related expenses. The best rewards credit card for travel will be the one that suits your needs and spending style; the idea is to get one and use it frequently.

Credit cards that earn points typically let you redeem those points for things like travel, cash back, gift cards, and merchandise. The value of points will vary, but generally, a point is worth about $0.01. However, you may get better value when you redeem points for things like travel.

There are many factors to consider when deciding between credit card miles vs. cash back vs. points cards. Cash-back cards often have low or no annual fees, and you can redeem your cash back for any purpose. However, they don’t usually have high-value welcome offers and may not offer as many benefits as other rewards cards. Credit cards that earn points or miles offer travel-related benefits and can help reduce the cost of travel, but they may charge large annual fees, and the value of the points and miles may vary.

Recommended: What Is the Average Credit Card Limit and How Can You Increase It?

5 Steps for Using Rewards for Travel

Here are five easy steps for using your rewards for travel.

1. Set a Travel Goal

First, set a travel goal. Decide where you want to go and when. If you are flexible on dates, you can save money or points. For example, flying a few weeks before Christmas instead of a few days before can save you a lot of money.

Is there a certain hotel or resort you dream of staying in? Do a little research to see what their rates are like. You might see that your target dates are at a time of high demand and cost due to a special event at that moment. You can then move your date a bit to avoid those extra-high prices. Or perhaps you are looking for just a two-night stay at a hotel near Lake Como, Italy, but all the lodging there has three-night minimums in summer. This kind of intel can be very useful as you plan.

Also, once you determine your goal, you can begin to develop a travel budget and start a travel fund to keep your money secure as you save and earn some interest.

2. Figure Out the Miles and Points You Need

Once you know where you want to go and when, you should see which miles and/or points you will need to get there. Scope out which airlines fly to your destination from your home airport (or another nearby), and which airlines they might partner with.

As you research routes that you might take, get a rough idea of how many miles or points the flights might cost. Be aware of blackout dates and other special considerations.

3. Research Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs

Most hotels and airlines have loyalty programs in which you earn and redeem points and miles with that hotel or airline. Every hotel and airline has its own point system, though some have networks of partners, in which rewards can be used at multiple brands.

Airline partners within the same airline alliance allow you to redeem miles on flights operated by their partners. For example, Star Alliance includes airlines such as Air Canada, TAP Portugal, United Airlines, and many more. If you are looking at a flight, you may want to look up potential partners, as it is sometimes cheaper to book that flight with miles from a different partner.

4. Shop for Credit Cards That Will Help You Meet Your Goal

Once you know which airlines and hotels will work best for your travel goal, you can figure out which credit card rewards can help you reach that travel goal.

Credit cards with rewards can be an example of how families afford to travel. You can earn points and miles every time you swipe or tap and then redeem them for travel expenses, like flights and hotels.

You may want to apply for a credit card with the specific airline or hotel, or one that offers points that are transferable to airline and hotel partners (like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards). Be sure to research which airlines and hotels these rewards programs partner with. You should also compare things like annual fees, welcome offers, earning structures, and benefits like travel insurance. Make sure you understand how credit card travel insurance work; that can be an important perk.

5. Track Your Progress

Once you have signed up for the credit card(s) that will help you meet your travel goal, there are a few things that you will need to track. If your credit card has a welcome bonus after spending a certain amount, you will need to track your progress toward that minimum amount. Some banks track this for you in your account, but others do not. Some other things that you may want to consider tracking include:

•   Spending requirements

•   Spending goals

•   Deadlines

•   Bonus reward categories

•   Points expiration dates

•   Hotel points to help save on hotel costs

•   Frequent flier miles

Recommended: Getting the Most Out of Your Credit Card Rewards

Tips for Maximizing Your Cards

Maximizing your cards is important to get the most rewards that you can. Follow this advice to help squeeze every last drop of value from your cards.

Label Your Cards

If you have multiple credit cards, it can be difficult to remember which one to use for which purchase. You may have one card that earns more on dining, another that earns more on gas, and a third that earns more on groceries. Some credit cards have rotating bonus categories that change throughout the year and may offer a short-term bonus earning opportunity, like extra points on gas purchases for the next few weeks.

If you have trouble remembering which card to use for which purchase, you can try using stickers or tape on the card with words like “gas” or “dining.” This can help you find the right card at the right moment. This strategy can also offer some helpful guidance if you have a partner who is not as invested in maximizing their cards as you are.

Time Large Purchases Strategically

If you know that you will have a large or several large purchases coming up in the near future, you may want to plan your credit card strategy around them. You might apply for a new credit card with a welcome offer shortly before making the large purchase. Some credit cards have welcome offers that require you to spend a certain amount during the first few months. If you would not otherwise spend that amount of money, timing it around the large purchase could help you meet this minimum spend and earn a hefty bonus (say, extra points).

Utilize Shopping and Dining Portals

Shopping and dining portals can give you extra miles, points, or money when you complete an eligible purchase. This involves going through a certain platform when making a purchase so that you can earn extra cash back, points, or miles. In this way, you can stack these portal rewards with other rewards, like the ones that you are earning on purchases on your credit card.

•   Portals can be through an airline, credit card, or independent cash-back company. Some popular airline portals include American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping and AAdvantage Dining, Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards Shopping and Rapid Rewards Dining, and Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles Shopping and SkyMiles Dining, among others.

•   Credit card companies that offer their own online shopping portals include Chase, Capital One, and Barclays. Popular cash-back portals include Rakuten, Mr. Rebates, and Top Cashback.

•   To use a shopping or dining portal, you would sign up for an account with the specific portal program. When you are ready to make a purchase at a retailer, you can go to the portal program’s website first, and click through there to the retailer to complete your purchase. You could also download a browser button for the program, and then click on the button before you complete your purchase.

•   If you want to compare which portal will give you the best return for a retailer, CashbackMonitor.com lets you search by stores or rewards types.

Try Apps

If you find yourself with points and miles in a variety of reward systems (like various airlines, hotels, and credit card companies), you may have a hard time keeping track of it all. Apps, like Travel Freely and MaxRewards, can help you organize your credit cards, rewards, points, and miles. Apps can help you easily see which credit card to use for which purchase, how many rewards you have in various systems, view upcoming annual fees, and more.

The Takeaway

Credit card rewards can help make travel more affordable. Once you have figured out which credit card can enable you to reach your travel goals, learning how to maximize your cards will likely boost the rewards you reap. By labeling your cards, timing large purchases, utilizing shopping and dining portals, and using apps, you may get closer to your dream vacation that much more quickly.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.


Photo credit: iStock/martin-dm

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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How to Get a Travel Visa, and Where You Need One

Sometimes, travel involves more paperwork than just your passport and boarding pass. Travel visas are documents that grant you the privilege to travel to a given country. Depending on where you’re coming from, where you’re headed, and why, you may or may not need a visa to get there — but it’s important to find out whether you do as part of your travel planning.

If you need a visa, you’ll have to apply for one with the country you’re planning to visit. What’s more, the application will likely come with a fee.

To help you figure out the wide world of visa requirements, read on, and learn:

•   What the different types of travel visas are

•   Which travel destinations require a visa

•   How to get a visa

•   How long it takes to get a visa

Types of Travel Visas


While there are dozens of visas available for different purposes, they can be broken down into four categories: tourist, immigrant, student, and work.

•   Tourist visas are for travelers visiting a country for a short time. This is most likely what you’re looking for if you’re planning a vacation. Some countries don’t require United States citizens to apply for this type of visa ahead of time, but there may still be restrictions that apply to your travel.

For example, as long as you have a valid U.S. Passport, you can travel to most parts of Europe without applying for a visa beforehand. But you can only stay within the borders of the Schengen Zone for 90 out of 180 consecutive days. The passport stamp you receive on arrival is your visa. (The Schengen Zone encompasses most of the EU countries, some Scandinavian ones, and a few others.)

•   Immigrant visas are for people who are hoping to establish permanent residence in their destination country. Applying for this type of visa can be a lengthy, multi-step process, and getting a visa doesn’t guarantee you’ll be granted citizenship. Still, it’s an important first step toward emigrating to a different country.

•   Student visas are for those studying in a foreign country. To apply for one, you’ll need to prove that you’re enrolled in a legitimate, qualified school in the destination country.

•   Work visas allow their holders to accept employment in a country outside of their citizenship. These visas are usually temporary but can be renewed if the employment continues.

Many visas can be applied for online; these are known as e-visas. Increasingly, many countries are moving toward online visa applications. Exceptions are made for those who can’t apply online due to a disability or other extenuating circumstance.

Recommended: Guide to Saving Money on Hotels

How to Apply for a Travel Visa


If you are planning a trip and realize you need a travel visa, here’s how to spring into action. You’ll want to apply for it with your destination country’s government travel agency. During the application process, you’ll be asked to provide basic identifying information and, if applying online, you may be asked to upload a photo of your passport. The U.S. Department of State is a great resource for up-to-date information on which countries require a visa and how to apply for them.

Seems simple, right? It is, but with a couple important caveats when contemplating how to get a visa.

•   Having a valid passport isn’t always enough to enable travel. Many countries require your passport to have at least six months left before the expiration date at the time of your trip.

•   Applying for a passport in the first place can be a somewhat lengthy process; it may take as long as 11 weeks to get your passport in the mail after you apply. Even expedited processing, which comes with an additional fee, starts at five weeks of lead time. All of which is to say, make sure you have your passport ducks in a row well before you’re getting ready to actually apply for your visa.

Which Countries Require a Visa for U.S. Citizens?


Visa requirements change regularly. A case in point: The United Kingdom, which has long allowed U.S. citizens to travel without a visa, will soon require visitors to go through an online application system.

For the most up-to-date information — and before you lock in flights for a family vacation — check with the U.S. Department of State or your destination country’s travel agency to make sure you have everything set up for success before you head to the airport. At that time, you can also find out how long it will take to receive your visa. For e-visas, it may take just a couple of days.

That said, here are a few popular travel destinations that do require visas for U.S. travelers, along with notes to help you plan.

Country Application Process Fee Duration of Visit
Australia Apply online with the Australian Department of Home Affairs AUD20 processing fee Up to 3 months at a time over 12 months
China China requires U.S. citizens to apply for a visa ahead of travel. Regular processing takes 4 days, and express service takes 3. You must have at least 6 months of validity on your passport and may need to meet other requirements, such as providing proof of round-trip air travel. $140 Single, double, and multi-entry visas are available over the course of 6 months, and 12 months or more
India You can apply for a visa online; processing may take 5 business days or longer $25-$80, depending on visa duration Not more than 180 days of any calendar year
Kenya E-visa required, along with proof of yellow fever vaccination $51 Visa is valid for three months from the date of issue and may be extended for 90 days
Russia The U.S. Embassy calls Russia’s visa program “restrictive and complicated,” and it can take up to 20 days to get an exit visa if your visa expires during your visit. Still, it’s possible to apply for a visa ahead of time if you have your heart set on a visit, though the process will take research, time investment, and several steps. $160 90 days in any 180-day period
United Kingdom As mentioned above, the U.K. will soon require an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) of U.S. travelers. This is different from, but similar to, a visa. Processing will take a few days, but the application only takes a few minutes. Free 180 days
Vietnam You must apply for an e-visa online before arrival. Urgent processing is available, but normally processing takes 2 business days. $17-$65 depending on visa duration One-month single and multiple entry, and 3-month single and multiple entry visas available

Visa-Free Places for U.S. Passport Holders


To repeat the caveat again: The best way to know for sure if a visa is required is to research your specific destination ahead of time. That said, here are some popular destinations that are currently visa-free for U.S. passport holders. Note: This list is not exhaustive, and time restrictions may still hold.

•   American Samoa

•   Antigua and Barbuda

•   Argentina

•   Aruba

•   Belize

•   Bermuda

•   Brazil

•   Botswana

•   Canada

•   Chile

•   Colombia

•   Costa Rica

•   Curacao

•   Ecuador

•   Europe: Much of Europe allows visa-free entry for up to 90 days

•   Dominican Republic

•   Haiti

•   Honduras

•   Jamaica

•   Japan

•   Mexico

•   Morocco

•   Namibia

•   Nicaragua

•   Panama

•   Peru

•   Puerto Rico

•   Philippines

•   Scandinavia: Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway don’t require visas for stays of 90 days or less

•   Singapore

•   Senegal

•   South Africa

•   Thailand

•   Trinidad and Tobago.

Recommended: Where to Keep Your Travel Fund

Tips to Help Your Travel Plans Run Smoothly


Making sure you have the visa you need is only one part of travel planning. While you’re getting organized, here are a few more things to think about:

•   See if your furbaby needs a visa. Those traveling with pets may need to bring certain documentation in order to get their crate past customs. Otherwise, you might be unpleasantly surprised by a lengthy quarantine requirement.

•   Make sure your money is ready to travel, too. For international travel, it’s pretty key to have a travel credit card or cash back rewards credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

•   Get rewarded for air travel. If you usually fly with a specific airline, applying for an airline credit card could help you stack miles — and fly further for less.

•   Find ways to save. No matter how you slice it, international travel is expensive. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to save on everything from lodging to rental cars — so you don’t eat through your travel fund all in one go.

The Takeaway


U.S. nationals are lucky to have a long list of countries that don’t require a visa for them to visit. However, some countries do (including popular destinations), so it’s important to research requirements. Find out if you need a visa for your trip well before your travel dates so you don’t run into unexpected delays.

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What Does Annual Income Mean When Applying for a Credit Card?

When you apply for a credit card, the credit card issuer will ask you for your annual income. They want to be sure you have the means to pay your bills on time. Issuers may ask you to calculate your income in specific ways. For example, they may ask for net income or gross income when filling out an application.

If you’re single and work a salaried job, this may be fairly easy to figure out. However, for many people, income can be complicated and comes from a wide variety of sources. It also might be shared with a spouse.

Here’s a look at what you need to know about what annual income means on a credit card application, and how to know what types of income to include if you have multiple sources.

Key Points

•   Annual income is crucial for credit card applications to ensure applicants can pay bills.

•   It includes wages, tips, bonuses, and other earnings like pension benefits and alimony.

•   Gross income is total earnings before deductions; net income is what remains after.

•   For credit card applications, it’s important to accurately calculate and report gross or net income.

•   Misrepresenting income on applications is illegal and can lead to severe penalties.

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Track your credit score for free. Sign up and get $10.*


What Counts as Income?

For the most part, any money that is paid to you directly and that you have reasonable access to counts as income. This includes money you received from an employer or, if you’re self-employed, from clients. It can also come from other sources, such as investments or retirement benefits. Note that income tends to vary by age, and it is not the same as net worth.

The following are some examples of types of income credit card issuers may consider:

•   Salary and wages

•   Commissions

•   Tips

•   Bonuses

•   Income from a spouse or partner

•   Pension benefits

•   Social Security benefits

•   Public assistance

•   Alimony and child support payments that you receive

•   Interest

•   Dividends

You may not have to include alimony or child support payments as income on a credit card application. The reason? Credit card issuers understand that those payments may already be earmarked for the support of an individual.

Recommended: What’s the Difference Between Income and Net Worth?

What Is the Difference Between Gross and Net Income?

When it comes to calculating income, it’s helpful to know what gross income and net income mean.

Your gross income is the total amount of money you make before any other deductions are taken from it. Deductions may include things like taxes, 401(k) contributions, and health insurance premiums. Your gross income represents income from all sources.

Your net income, on the other hand, represents how much money you have once all deductions have been made. For individuals, this is their “take-home” pay, which can be considerably smaller than gross income. Credit card issuers may ask for net income as it represents money that you can access and isn’t earmarked for other purposes.

Tools such as spending apps can help you organize and manage the money you earn.

How to Calculate Your Gross Annual Income

Calculating gross income is relatively simple. You’ll need to add up income from all sources. For tax purposes, this will include wages, tips, bonuses, commission, capital gains, dividends, alimony, pension payments, interest, and rental income. You can find your adjusted gross income by subtracting above-the-line tax deductions, such as contributions to 401(k)s and traditional IRAs.

Credit card issuers can look at other income that’s not necessarily taxed, such as life insurance payouts of gifts. So be sure to include that in your calculation for a credit card application.

How to Calculate Your Annual Net Income

Calculate your net income by taking your gross income and subtracting deductions, including taxes, such as income taxes, capital gains tax, and employment taxes. You’ll also need to subtract contributions to retirement accounts and insurance premium payments.

If you receive a paycheck, there may be a line that spells out net income.

Recommended: How to Calculate Your Net Worth and Wealth

What Types of Income Don’t Count on a Credit Card Application?

There are some types of income that you can’t include on a credit card application. Generally, these are forms of income that you don’t have access to. For example, if your wages are being garnished to pay off a debt, you cannot include that amount of the garnished wages as income, as that money belongs to your creditor. Similarly, you can’t include money that goes toward alimony or child support payments or that you need to use to pay off tax debt.

What Happens If I Lie About My Income on a Credit Card Application?

It may be tempting to fudge your income on a credit card application. After all, tacking on a few thousands dollars to your income may be the difference between being approved for a credit card and being rejected. That said, you should never lie about your income on a credit card application. If you do, you’re committing fraud, and it’s a federal offense. So while it may not seem like a big deal to give your income a little boost, if you’re caught, you could face up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

What Other Information Does a Credit Card Application Require?

In addition to income, you can expect a credit card issuer to ask for the following information on a credit card application:

•   Legal name and a valid U.S. address

•   Housing costs, which help the issuer determine how much debt you can afford to pay back

•   Your Social Security or Individuals Taxpayer Identification Number, which is needed for the credit card issuer to make a hard pull on your credit report to check your credit score

Issuers consider your credit score when they determine whether to extend credit to you. A high credit score shows lenders that you have a history of responsibly managing debts and paying your bills on time. Lower credit scores indicate that a borrower is less likely to make on-time payments, and lenders may be less likely to approve them for a card.

The best way to maintain a healthy credit score is to always pay your bills on time. You can receive a free credit report each year from the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Check your credit report regularly to ensure there are no mistakes that could be dragging down your score. Report mistakes to the credit bureaus immediately.

The Takeaway

Credit card companies look at your annual income to determine how much credit you can afford and to assess their risk in extending you credit. Some may specify how they wish you to calculate your annual income, frequently asking for gross or net income. Gross income is the total amount of money you make before any other deductions are taken from it. Net income represents how much money you have after deductions have been made.

To calculate either figure, you’ll need to gather information about all your income sources. A money tracking app can help you keep tabs on your finances. The SoFi app connects all of your accounts in one dashboard so you can get a bird-eye view of your finances, track income and spending, and monitor your credit score.

Stay up to date on your finances by seeing exactly how your money comes and goes.

FAQ

What does it Mean when a credit card application asks for annual income?

Credit card companies may specify how they want you to report your annual income. They may ask for gross income, which includes all income before taxes and deductions, or net income, which is income after taxes and deductions have been subtracted.

What counts as annual income?

Annual income includes all money that you can say you reasonably have access to. This typically includes salary and wages, commissions, tips, bonuses, income from a spouse or partner, pension benefits, Social Security benefits, public assistance, alimony and child support payments, interest, and dividends.

What doesn’t count as annual income?

You cannot include income that you don’t have access to, such as garnished wages, alimony and child support payments you’re required to make, or money that must be used to pay off tax debt.


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*Terms and conditions apply. This offer is only available to new SoFi users without existing SoFi accounts. It is non-transferable. One offer per person. To receive the rewards points offer, you must successfully complete setting up Credit Score Monitoring. Rewards points may only be redeemed towards active SoFi accounts, such as your SoFi Checking or Savings account, subject to program terms that may be found here: SoFi Member Rewards Terms and Conditions. SoFi reserves the right to modify or discontinue this offer at any time without notice.

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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