Guide to Saving Money on Hotels for Your Next Vacation

Along with flights, lodging costs are one of the biggest expenses for many vacationers. As such, savvy travelers are likely on the lookout for how to save money on hotels when planning their vacation.

While hotel prices often rise and fall over time based on supply and demand, there are ways to save money on hotels on vacation. This ranges from being flexible about when and where you travel to getting a hotel credit card and taking advantage of cashback rewards. Read on for a full rundown of the best ways to save on hotels for your next vacation.

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Tips to Save on Hotels While Traveling

Wondering how to save on hotels when traveling? Here are some tips to try.

Getting a Hotel Credit Card

Using credit card rewards to travel for less is one way to save money on hotels while traveling. Most major hotel chains have a co-branded credit card that allows you to earn points for staying with them as well as on your everyday spending.

Additionally, many of these hotel credit cards offer sign-up bonuses. With these bonuses, you may be able to earn enough credit card points for a few free nights just by meeting a minimum spending amount.

There are different credit card rewards programs, so just make sure to choose the one for the hotel where you’re wanting to stay.

Earning Hotel Cashback

One of the downsides of getting a hotel credit card is that in most cases, you’re limited to using your points to stay with that particular hotel chain. If you have a Marriott credit card that earns Marriott Bonvoy hotel points, for instance, you can’t use them to stay at a Hilton or Hyatt.

One way to get around that is to use a credit card that offers cash back rewards. These cards allow you to redeem cash rewards from your everyday purchases that you can then use to pay for any hotel you want.

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Keeping an Eye Out for Deals

Flexibility is key to saving money on hotels, and the earlier you start planning your vacation, the more luck you’ll have in finding travel deals. Many successful vacationers start planning their trips up to a year before they actually plan to travel. That gives you plenty of time to explore your options, wait for deals to pop up, and keep an eye out for sales.

Checking All the Conditions While Booking the Hotel

When you’re booking a hotel room, you’re generally presented with several different room rates. You might have a different rate if you’re a member of the hotel loyalty program, if you prepay for your stay, or if you belong to a specific organization.

These different rates also usually come with different cancellation policies. Make sure to read the fine print before you book, so you can know what to expect during your stay. The fine print could also detail additional fees that the rate doesn’t clearly include.

Looking Out for Free Breakfast

One way to plan a budget family vacation is to look for hotels that include complimentary breakfast with the room rate. If you’re traveling with a family, getting the breakfast that’s included in your hotel reservation might save you anywhere from $20-$50 per day. This can free up some of your hotel funds for other vacation activities, and can make a difference when comparing rates from different hotels.

Joining a Hotel Points Program

Even if you don’t sign up for a hotel chain’s co-branded credit card, you’ll want to make sure to join their loyalty program. There’s typically no cost to join the hotel’s loyalty program, and you’ll generally get perks like lower nightly rates or complimentary Wi-Fi. This can be a great way to save money for a trip.

Taking Advantage of Falling Rates

One strategy for saving money on hotels is to only book a refundable rate that you can cancel at any time. Then, periodically check back to see if the rate has fallen. If the rate is lower than when you first booked the hotel, cancel your original reservation and book at the new lower rate.

There are also services that you can take advantage of if you don’t want to stay on top of price tracking yourself. For example, websites and apps like Hopper and Rebookey can monitor hotel prices and notify you if the price drops after you’ve booked.

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Making Payments in Advance

Alternatively, you can prepare financially for travel by making your hotel payments in advance. Many hotels offer a lower rate when you prepay as compared to a refundable hotel rate where your credit card isn’t charged until your stay. You could save anywhere from $10 to $20 per night by prepaying in advance.

Plus, if you pay with a credit card that offers credit card travel insurance, you’ll have peace of mind that your prepaid funds aren’t lost if your travel plans change unexpectedly.

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Sticking to Your Budget

Like most financial purchases, one of the best ways to save money is to establish a written budget and then stick to it. If you plan for a trip a year in advance, you can make a budget for your trip and then create a travel fund where you put 1/12 of the cost into your travel fund each month.

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Being Spontaneous

While hotel prices go up and down — sometimes multiple times per day — based on supply and demand, you can sometimes get great deals by booking at the very last minute. If you have a ton of flexibility, you can sometimes find cheap cruises or outstanding last-minute weekend hotel deals. This strategy is best used if you don’t have concrete plans and don’t have a strong preference for where you go.

Using Discounts You Already Have

If you’re a frugal traveler, you’ll want to also take advantage of any discounts that you already have. This could include saving on gas using grocery fuel points, buying discounted gift cards, or using credit card points to offset some of your travel costs.

This is another reason why planning in advance and being flexible can help — the more time you have to plan, the more time for you to take advantage of some of these deals.

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Apply for a New Rewards Credit Card With SoFi

Lodging costs can be one of the most expensive parts of any vacation, so it’s a good idea to know how to save money on hotel rooms. Hotel prices fluctuate often based on supply and demand, so plan as far in advance as your schedule allows. The more flexible you can be in terms of when you travel, where you go, and what hotel you want to stay at, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to save money on hotels.

One of the best ways to save money on hotels is with credit card miles or cash back rewards. With the SoFi credit card, you can earn unlimited 2% cash back rewards that you can use to help pay for your next vacation. For a limited time, new credit card holders who also sign up for a SoFi Checking and Savings with direct deposit can start earning 3% cash back rewards on all eligible credit card purchases for 365 days*. Offer ends 12/31/22.

Invest your cash back rewards with the SoFi credit card.

FAQ

What days are the cheapest to stay in hotels?

Determining which days are the cheapest to stay in hotels depends quite a bit on where the hotel is and who their clientele typically is. If you’re looking to stay in a tourist-heavy vacation spot, it’s likely that weekends are most expensive. On the other hand, a hotel that caters to business travelers might be more expensive during the week and cheaper on weekends.

What time of the year do hotel prices drop?

There isn’t a set time of day or year when hotel prices drop. Instead, hotel prices vary according to supply and demand. One strategy to save money on hotels is to book a refundable rate initially. Then, you can monitor prices and if the price goes down, you can just rebook.

Are hotels cheaper last minute?

Hotel prices vary all the time, both up and down. It’s possible for hotel prices to go down if you wait until late in the day on the night you want to stay. This can be an option if you have flexibility in your plans.


Photo credit: iStock/aquaArts studio

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.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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.
New and existing Checking and Savings members who have not previously enrolled in direct deposit with SoFi are eligible to earn a cash bonus when they set up direct deposits of at least $1,000 over a consecutive 25-day period. Cash bonus will be based on the total amount of direct deposit. The Program will be available through 3/31/23. Full terms at sofi.com/banking. SoFi Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. Member FDIC.

SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet

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Guide to Credit Card Annual Fees

To pay or not to pay — that’s the big question when it comes to choosing between a credit card that comes with an annual fee and one that doesn’t.

A credit card annual fee is the price that some cardholders pay to use a certain credit card. While there are plenty of credit cards on the market that don’t come with an annual fee, the credit cards that charge an annual fee tend to have better cardholder perks that can outweigh the cost of the annual fee if the card is used optimally.

Keep reading for more insight into annual fee credit cards.

What Is a Credit Card Annual Fee?

What does an annual fee mean on a credit card? Annual fees are costs charged by credit card issuers to help finance cardholder perks, such as travel credits and free checked luggage on flights.

The amount of an annual fee factors into how much a credit card costs overall, and it varies from card to card. Credit card annual fees can start as low as $39 and go as high as $995 for luxury credit cards.

Usually how credit cards work is that cards with sky-high annual fees also offer a lot of extra perks to make the credit card worth the money. For instance, the cardholder may gain exclusive access to an airport lounge or be able to tap into competitive introductory reward bonuses.

However, there are cases where an annual fee is charged for credit cards designed for consumers with low credit scores. These credit cards don’t offer great rewards, and instead give consumers with poor credit a chance to repair their credit by using credit cards responsibly. Eventually, the goal is for the cardholder to improve their credit so they can qualify for credit cards with lower interest rates and better perks.

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How Do Credit Card Annual Fees Work?

When you pay the annual fee on a credit card varies depending on your card issuer. Credit card issuers either charge annual fees on either a yearly basis, or they may divide the fee up into smaller monthly installments.

If your fee is charged once a year, then it usually will appear on your first statement after you open your account. You’ll then get charged every 12 months thereafter. In the instance an annual fee is divided into smaller monthly payments, these will get included on the monthly statement the cardholder receives.

You pay your credit card annual fee just like you’d pay any other credit card charges listed on your monthly statement.

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Which Credit Cards Typically Have an Annual Fee?

There are three main types of annual fee credit cards. Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Reward Cards

Credit cards that can offer a high-value rewards structure or that have a strong introductory bonus often come with an annual fee. If the card is used strategically, it’s possible to earn enough rewards to cancel out the cost of the annual fee and other cardholder fees. You may earn rewards like cash back, travel points, or discounts on specialty purchases.

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Premium Credit Cards

A premium credit card that offers luxe perks like private airport lounge access or a travel concierge is likely to charge an annual fee to use the card. If you’re considering one of these cards, make sure to crunch the numbers to make sure you’ll use enough of the perks to offset the cost of the annual fee.

Secured Credit Cards

A secured credit card is designed to help consumers with bad credit scores improve their credit. These cards require a deposit to “secure” the card, and that amount also usually serves as the card’s credit limit. On top of the deposit, secured credit cards often carry an annual fee.

For some, the cost may be worth it for the opportunity to improve their credit score, which can make it easier to qualify for lending opportunities in the future. Still, make sure it’s within your budget.

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How Are Credit Card Annual Fees Charged?

So, when do you pay an annual fee on a credit card? As briefly mentioned above, some credit card issuers charge the annual fee once a year, while others split up the annual fee into smaller monthly installments.

The annual fee shows up on the credit card statement alongside normal credit card charges, and the cardholder pays the annual fee as part of that month’s credit card bill. Remember that even if you have an authorized user on a credit card, it’s still the primary cardholder’s responsibility to make payments, which includes any fees.

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Avoiding Credit Card Annual Fees

If you’re trying to avoid credit card fees, it’s entirely possible to avoid paying annual fees. There are plenty of credit cards on the market that don’t charge an annual fee at all.

If someone is interested in a credit card with an annual fee, such as a premium rewards card, they can try to get the first year’s annual fee waived. Some credit card issuers offer to do this from the get-go. However, if someone is an existing cardmember with the issuer and their introductory offer doesn’t include waiving the first year’s fee, they can request a one-time waiver.

Before signing up for a credit card with an annual fee, it’s important to evaluate your spending habits. You want to ensure that you can comfortably afford to cover the annual fee for the credit card. Also investigate whether you’ll earn enough benefits from the card to justify the cost of the annual fee.

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SoFi’s Credit Card

The SoFi credit card is a rewards credit card. Cardholders can earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. They earn 1% cash back when redeemed for a statement credit.1 Plus, cardholders can access discounts with popular retailers.

Learn more today about how the SoFi credit card works!

FAQ

How do you pay the annual fee on your credit card?

If someone has an annual fee credit card, the annual fee will appear on their credit card statement. The fee may appear every 12 months or in smaller increments on a monthly basis. The cardholder then pays this fee as a part of their monthly bill in addition to any other purchases they made with the credit card during that billing cycle.

How can I avoid paying annual fees on my credit card?

Alongside choosing a credit card that doesn’t charge an annual fee (there are plenty of options on the market), a consumer may be able to get the first year of an annual fee waived as a new cardholder incentive. It only makes sense to open a credit card with an annual fee if the account holder’s spending habits line up with the rewards structure of the credit card. That way, they can earn enough cash back, miles, or other perks to outweigh the cost of the annual fee.

Do all credit cards have annual fees?

There are tons of great credit cards on the market that don’t come with annual fees. There’s never a reason to pay an annual fee if someone decides that’s not a good use of their money.

Photo credit: iStock/Rudzhan Nagiev
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.
Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s
website
.

The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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Credit Card Miles vs. Cash Back: Guide to Choosing Between Cash Back and Travel Rewards

Credit cards often offer rewards to incentivize you to apply for a credit card and use it. Cash back cards and miles cards are two common types of rewards cards. The former gives you cash rewards, while the latter offers miles or points that you can use toward a purchase.

Both types of rewards can end up being quite valuable for cardholders. But how do you decide whether you want to earn miles vs. cash back? Here’s a look at cash back vs. travel rewards cards to help you decide which is right for you.

Cash in on up to $250–and 3% cash back for 365 days.¹

Apply and get approved for the SoFi Credit Card. Then open a bank account with qualifying direct deposits. Some things are just better together.


What Are Points and Miles Credit Cards?

Points and miles credit cards are technically two types of rewards cards, a broader category within what a credit card is. Points cards give you points that you can redeem for things like travel, merchandise, or cash back to reward you for your spending. Generally, a point is worth about $0.01, though that varies by card and, in some cases, what you choose to use your points for. For example, you might earn more points for travel than you do when you redeem your points for gift cards.

Miles cards usually offer airline miles associated with an airline’s frequent flyer program. You can earn them by using a credit card that’s co-branded with a specific airline, or a card that’s a more general travel card. With co-branded cards, you can redeem miles with that airline or their partner airlines. Cards that aren’t co-branded may allow you to use your miles with various airlines.

As with points, airline miles are typically worth about $0.01, though the value of each mile might differ depending on when you book your travel and what type of seat you purchase.

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Pros and Cons of Points and Miles Credit Cards

Before signing up for a miles or points card, it’s important to consider the advantages and disadvantages.

On the one hand, points and miles cards both offer travel-related perks, though miles cards may only offer travel through specific airlines. Cards may also come with bonuses to help incentivize you to apply for a credit card.

However, miles and points cards may charge a hefty annual fee that helps the credit card company offset the cost of providing the rewards program. With co-branded cards, you typically cannot transfer miles to other airlines. Additionally, the value of your miles may vary according to a variety of factors, such as the date you choose to travel or the seat you want to sit in.

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Pros of Points and Miles Credit Cards Cons of Points and Miles Credit Cards
Reduce the cost of travel. Can’t transfer miles to another airline loyalty program.
Provide travel-related perks. Value of points and miles may vary.
May come with a sign-up bonus. Points and miles cards may charge large annual fees.

What Are Cash Back Credit Cards?

Cash back credit cards offer you cash as a reward for making purchases with the card. For example, your card might offer you up to 3% cash back on all purchases, which means that for every $100 you spend, you’ll receive $2. Cash back cards usually let you redeem your rewards for cash via statement credit, bank transfer, or check.

Cash back cards can be flat-rate cards, meaning you’ll earn a fixed percentage on every purchase. Or, they worked based on a tiered system. For example, some cards will offer you higher rewards for certain purchases, like travel, groceries, or gas. In some cases, cards may have rotating rewards categories that change every few months.

Related: Enjoying Credit Card Bonuses

Pros and Cons of Cash Back Credit Cards

When you consider a cash back card, again consider potential disadvantages in addition to benefits.
On the plus side, cash back cards typically don’t come with steep annual fees. You can redeem your rewards for cash that you can use for any purpose, and the amount you earn is fixed — the value or your reward doesn’t vary by date or other factors as it might with a miles card.

On the other hand, the amount of cash you can earn may be limited, and these cards may not offer many other perks. Cash back cards also typically don’t come with credit card sign-up bonuses that are as big as those offered by miles and points cards, marking another difference between cash back vs. miles cards.

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Pros of Cash Back Credit Cards Cons of Cash Back Credit Cards
Usually have no annual fees. May offer lower sign-up bonuses.
Rewards can be redeemed for cash. Cash back cards may offer fewer perks.
The value of your reward is fixed. The amount you can earn may be limited.

Similarities Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards

Both cash back and points or miles cards offer you rewards based on your spending, and they may offer higher rewards for spending in certain categories. Be aware that some rewards have expiration dates, as well.

Rewards cards often carry higher-than-average interest rates. As a result, you’ll want to make sure that you will be able to pay off your credit card bill on-time and in full when you use your card, given how credit cards work when it comes to interest.

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Differences Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards

The main difference between a cash back credit card vs. miles and points card is how you redeem your rewards. With cash back cards, you received a percentage of your spending, sometimes limited to a maximum amount. You earn points and miles in a similar way. However, their value may change and you may be limited in where you can redeem them.

If you have a co-branded miles card for example, you may only be able to use your miles with that airline. Cards that aren’t co-branded may offer you the chance to redeem points and miles with a variety of companies, such as airlines and hotel brands.

Similarities Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards Differences Between Cash Back and Points and Miles Credit Cards
Offer rewards based on spending. Cash back card rewards are redeemed for cash.
May offer greater rewards for spending in certain categories. Points and miles allow you to redeem rewards toward purchases.
Typically has a higher interest rate. Points and miles cards may limit where you can redeem your rewards.

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Is It Better to Get Cash Back or Miles?

Whether or not you choose a cash back card vs. a miles or points card will depend on how much you travel. Travel cards tend to offer better value when you redeem points and miles for travel-related rewards. So if you’re a big traveler, one of these cards may be right for you. However, if you’re more of a homebody, a cash back rewards program may be a better fit.

Other Credit Card Rewards

Cash back or travel rewards isn’t your only choice. There are a variety of other credit card rewards programs you may encounter.

Gas Rewards

Gas cards are typically co-branded with certain gas vendors. Users usually earn points and discounts only on gas purchases. In general, gas cards have relatively high rates of return and don’t charge an annual fee.

Retail Credit Cards

Credit cards that are co-branded with major retail outlets will often offer discounts at that outlet. Rewards might be applied at the point of sale or as regular statement credits.

Rewards Points Redemption Into Crypto

Some credit cards may allow you to redeem rewards for crypto. For instance, SoFi’s credit card lets users redeem reward points directly into cryptocurrency, in addition to redeeming points into a checking or savings account or an investment account.

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The Takeaway

Understanding how credit cards allow you to redeem rewards — and how useful those rewards are — is key to deciding which card is right for you. If you’re a world traveler, a miles card might fit the bill. And if you don’t fly frequently, you may be better served by earning cash back on purchases you make in your day-to-day life.

Shop around for the credit card that best suits your needs. A credit card from SoFi offers 2% unlimited cash back rewards and charges no foreign transaction fee. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1

FAQ

What is the difference between cash back and miles?

Cash back cards allow you to earn back a percentage of the purchases you make. Miles cards allow you to earn miles based on the purchases you make, which you often must use toward airline travel.

Is cash back really worth it?

Cash back rewards can allow you to earn some money back from your everyday spending. However, you’ll want to make sure you can pay off your balance in full each month, as rewards cards that offer cash back tend to have higher interest rates than non-rewards credit cards.

Can you convert miles to cash?

Some cards allow you to convert miles to cash, but users will get the most value from redeeming miles for travel. You can find out whether your card allows you to convert miles to cash by calling your credit card issuer. Find their number on the back of your credit card.

Do cash back or credit card miles have higher interest rates?

Both cash back and travel rewards credit cards tend to have higher interest rates as they’re types of rewards credit cards. In general, rewards credit cards usually have higher interest rates than no-frills cards that don’t offer rewards.


Photo credit: iStock/franckreporter

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.
The SoFi Credit Card is issued by The Bank of Missouri (TBOM) (“Issuer”) pursuant to license by Mastercard® International Incorporated and can be used everywhere Mastercard is accepted. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated.
SoFi cardholders earn 2% unlimited cash back rewards when redeemed to save, invest, or pay down eligible SoFi debt. Cardholders earn 1% cash back rewards when redeemed for a statement credit.1
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
Members earn 2 rewards points for every dollar spent on eligible purchases. If you elect to redeem points for cash deposited into your SoFi Checking or Savings account, SoFi Money® account, fractional shares or cryptocurrency in your SoFi Active Invest account, or as a payment to your SoFi Personal, Private Student, or Student Loan Refinance, your points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per every point. If you elect to redeem points as a statement credit to your SoFi Credit Card account, your points will redeem at a rate of 0.5 cents per every point. For more details please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.
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6 Examples of When to Use Your Emergency Fund

No doubt, it’s important to save money for a rainy day. But once you’ve stashed some cash away, it can be hard to know what exactly qualifies as a rainy day and gives you license to dip into your savings.

Most of us would agree that being hit with a large, unexpected expense like a medical bill or car repair would be a good reason to tap an emergency fund. But what about a great deal on a used car, which you could really use? Or the opportunity to replace your old fridge at a steep discount? Do those qualify as reasons to dip into your savings?

Keep reading for more insight into when to use an emergency fund and when to back away. Here, you’ll learn:

•   What an emergency fund is

•   What not to spend an emergency fund on

•   How to know when to use your emergency fund.

What Is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund is essentially a savings fund earmarked for emergency expenses—aka unplanned expenses or financial emergencies. A major home repair, like a leaking roof, is an example of an unplanned expense that needs to be dealt with right away. Losing a job is an example of a financial emergency that can cause a lot of stress if you don’t have an emergency fund to dip into to pay for necessities and bills.

If someone doesn’t have an emergency fund and experiences financial difficulties, they may turn to high-interest debt. For instance, they may use credit cards or personal loans to cover expenses, which can lead to struggling to pay down the debt that’s left in its wake.

You may be wondering just how much to keep in an emergency fund. Financial experts often recommend having at least three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses set aside in an emergency fund. That can be a lofty goal considering that one recent study showed that about half of all Americans would struggle to come up with $400 in an emergency scenario. It’s wise not to be caught short and to prioritize saving an emergency fund.

What Are Things to Avoid Spending My Emergency Savings on?

Let’s say you’ve done a good job creating an emergency fund but aren’t sure when to dip into it. The question is: What types of expenses are valid uses of your emergency fund savings? Here are examples of when not to access that stash of cash.

•   Fun purchases. If you want but don’t need something and it isn’t in your budget, don’t pull from your emergency fund. Entertainment, dining out, tech gadgets, and designer clothes (even if on final sale) are all examples of wants, not needs. Set aside some funds for such buys if you like, but don’t even think about depleting your emergency fund savings. It’s always best to ask questions before making an impulse buy. Spend time thinking about a purchase carefully before making it. You may find that new bike you thought you desperately needed doesn’t seem so vital a day or two later.

•   Vacations. It’s very tempting to get away for a little R&R when things get tough, but a vacation isn’t a worthwhile emergency fund expense. If you want to have that week at the beach, go ahead and create a savings plan and a separate savings account to make it a reality. But it’s not a wise spending strategy to pull the money out of your rainy day funds.

•   Debt. Paying down debt is a great goal. It’s also a great use of any extra money you may have, but not at the expense of draining an emergency fund completely. If you’re chipping away at debt, keep at it but continue to keep some emergency funds aside. If you lose your job or an unexpected expense hits and you don’t have emergency savings, you might end up turning to more expensive forms of credit as a result. This underscores the importance of having an emergency fund.

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How to Know When an Expense Counts as an Emergency

Now, it’s time to consider when to go ahead and use that money you saved for a rainy day. If you’re on the fence about whether an expense counts as an emergency, ask yourself the following six questions to determine if you should tap your emergency funds. Your answers will provide guidance on whether to access your savings.

1. Is This Absolutely Necessary?

There’s a difference between things we want and things we need. If someone starts a new job and they have to buy a uniform for it, that’s a necessity. If, however, someone starts a new job and simply wants some new outfits, that isn’t a necessity. Similarly, pining for a new stove with a commercial-style cooktop is a want; replacing a stove that conked out is a necessity.

2. Is This the Only Way That I Can Pay for This?

Before pulling money from this account, it can be helpful to ask, is the emergency fund the only source of money that can cover this expense? Would it be possible to wait a week until payday and to use that income instead? Gift cards, coupons, and sale discount codes can make it easier to pay for purchases without draining your emergency fund.

Your goal here is to determine the lowest possible price for a purchase and then seeing if there’s another (non emergency fund) way to pay for it.

3. Is This an Unexpected Event?

Emergency funds can be a great way to cover unexpected and necessary purchases, but they aren’t supposed to replace poor planning. If you know a major expense is coming your way (say, the hot-water heater is coming to the end of its lifespan), it’s best to save for it instead of reaching into your rainy day fund.

4. Is This Urgent or Can It Wait?

Even if an expense feels like something that must be dealt with at the moment, there’s a good chance it can be put off. Ask yourself if it can wait until you have saved enough money to pay for it without accessing emergency funds.

5. How Much of My Emergency Fund Will I Be Using?

An emergency fund exists as a safety valve when you unexpectedly need funds. However, before pulling money from an emergency fund, it can be helpful to consider just how much of the emergency fund the purchase will take up. If it’s going to drain the fund and the purchase can wait, it’s likely best to wait. Or maybe you can buy a less pricey version of the item in question.

6. How Long Will It Take To Rebuild My Savings?

If the purchase will take up a big chunk of the emergency savings fund, it can be a good idea to map out how long it will take to rebuild those savings. If it will take more than six months, then it may be best to hold off on making that purchase until the emergency fund is more substantial. It may be better to cut back on spending to cover this expense now without having to touch emergency savings.

Of course, sometimes an emergency is really an emergency, and you can’t hold off. If you are hit with, say, a major medical bill, you may have to use up that emergency fund and work hard to rebuild it later. But it will have done its job and seen you through a tough time.

Banking With SoFi

Before pulling savings from an emergency fund, it’s important to determine if the purchase really is imperative. When deciding what to use emergency funds for, it’s helpful to focus on necessities, not wants. Sometimes, truly urgent needs crop up, and you’ll be glad you had that money saved. Other times, you may realize that the expense that seemed so desperately needed one minute is really not so vital the next. Emergency savings can be a real lifesaver, so you want to protect those funds and make sure you use them properly.

One way to build up an emergency fund faster is to put your money in a savings account that earns interest. When you open an online bank account (SoFi Checking and Savings, to be precise) with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive APY that can really help your savings grow! Not to mention, you won’t have to pay any account fees, which can make it easier to save even more for that rainy day.

Better banking is here with up to 3.75% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

What should you ask yourself before using your emergency fund?

Before you pull money from an emergency fund, ask yourself questions like, Is this expense absolutely necessary? Is this the only way I can pay for it? Is it urgent or can it wait? How much of my emergency savings will I be using up? The answers should guide you towards whether or not it’s worth tapping into your emergency fund.

What should you spend your emergency fund on?

What constitutes an emergency purchase for one person may look quite different for another. That being said, it’s usually best to only spend emergency fund savings on necessities, not wants. These financial emergencies are usually unexpected and may include home repairs, medical bills, and car repairs—or day-to-day expenses after, say, a job loss.

What should you not put in your emergency fund?

While it’s a good idea to put extra money towards an emergency fund instead of spending it on frivolities, there are some types of savings it’s best to leave out of an emergency fund. For example, it’s not a good idea to use 401(k) contributions or other retirement savings to build an emergency fund. Saving for retirement is super important and employers often match 401(k) contributions, which is basically like getting free money. It’s may be wise to focus on maxing out retirement contributions before building an emergency fund.


Photo credit: iStock/szefei

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
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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Guide to Voucher Checks

Voucher checks (also called check vouchers) are an extended check format that includes payment details not typically seen on a standard check. For example, a payroll voucher check allows the recipient to view taxes and other deductions from their gross pay. Voucher checks get their name from the two detachable sections (the “vouchers” or stubs) below the check itself.

A disadvantage of voucher checks is the additional clerical work required by the business issuing the check. Keep reading for more insight into how voucher checks work.

What Is a Voucher Check?

Many consumers don’t know what a voucher check is. A voucher check is a type of check variant that has detailed informational sections attached. These vouchers outline what the content and purpose of the check is. The voucher check is typically printed as a full sheet of paper, with the check at the top and the two removable vouchers below.

The payee holds on to the first voucher. Before cashing the check, the recipient will remove the remaining voucher and keep it for their records. Both parties can refer back to their vouchers in the event of a payment dispute.

It’s common for businesses to use voucher checks for employee payroll, as noted above. Payroll vouchers, also referred to as “pay stubs,” usually list deductions for taxes, insurance premiums, and other withholding items. This information can help employees better understand their pre- and post-tax income, and the breakdown of deductions.

How Do Voucher Checks Work?

Now that you know what a voucher check is, you’re probably wondering how they’re different from regular checks. For payees, voucher checks are handled the same as standard checks, with one exception: The payee should remove the voucher from the check before deposit. The voucher can be kept on file for future reference.

Anyone with a bank account can deposit a voucher check. Consumers who don’t have a bank account (about 1 in 20 Americans) can sign over a check to another recipient or try cashing the check at their local bank or credit union for a fee. As with most corporate checks, recipients should try to deposit the check within 6 months or the check may expire.

Recommended: Are Checkbooks Still Useful?

Who Uses Voucher Checks?

As we mentioned above, voucher checks are commonly used by businesses to pay their staff or vendors. Even if a company directly deposits pay into employee bank accounts, they may choose to keep a paper trail via a voucher check.

Preparing a Voucher Check

Voucher checks (or check vouchers) may be prepared by a business’s accounts payable or payroll department, using the following steps.

•   Step 1 All related documents – contracts, purchase orders, invoices, statements of accounts – are collected, either in hard copy or digitally.

•   Step 2 A voucher is created that incorporates any relevant info from the backup documentation, but always includes the voucher number, bank name, payor, date, amount, and recipient.

•   Step 3 The voucher is then attached to a standard written check, and both are signed by the authorized signatory.

•   Step 4 Once the recipient deposits or cashes the check, the business will file its own voucher and supporting documents.

Advantages of a Voucher Check

There are important advantages associated with voucher checks, which prompts businesses to go to the extra effort. Here are some of them:

Documents Maintained in Check Voucher System

When preparing a check voucher, a business must first gather all supporting documentation. This helps keep all relevant paperwork organized and in one place. It’s not possible to maintain a check voucher system without doing this.

Records Are in Order With No Irregularities

The bookkeeping process is considerably simpler when a payroll department uses a check voucher system, because all important documents are easily accessible in one place, in hard copy or digitally. Also, check vouchers are numbered and filed in chronological order, which keeps filing systems simple.

Easier to Track Checks

Businesses commonly do not file check vouchers until the check is deposited or cashed. Only cleared checks are filed.

Recommended: How to Stop Payment on a Check

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Open a SoFi Checking and Savings Account and start earning up to 3.75% APY on your cash!


Disadvantages of Voucher Checks

There are downsides associated with voucher checks that small businesses especially may want to keep in mind.

Maintenance Process Can Be Time-Consuming

Because of the additional documentation and organization requirements, it can be tedious for businesses to maintain a check voucher system.

Lack of Consumer Familiarity

Many consumers aren’t familiar with how paper check vouchers work, which can cause concerns about security. Consumers should take care to keep their vouchers private.

Check Voucher Alternatives

Some employers may choose to use the following alternative payment methods. None of these options, however, provides as extensive and organized a paper trail as check vouchers do.

•   Standard checks. A simple physical check still provides some form of a paper trail. Paper checks can also be tracked digitally or via duplicate checks.

•   Direct deposit. Many businesses and employees prefer the direct deposit route because of how fast and simple it is to electronically transfer the funds.

•   Prepaid debit cards. This is a newer and less common payment option. Workers paid in prepaid debit cards won’t need a bank account to access their funds.

Banking With SoFi

Online banking with SoFi makes getting paid fast and easy with online mobile check depositing and 55,000+ ATMs worldwide. Access your paycheck up to two days early, without paying account or overdraft fees, when you sign up for direct deposit.

Better banking is here with up to 3.75% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

How do you use a voucher check?

For payees, voucher checks are handled the same as standard checks, with one exception: The payee should remove the voucher from the check before deposit. The voucher can be kept on file for future reference.

What is the difference between a check and a voucher?

Voucher checks get their name from the two detachable sections (the “vouchers” or stubs) below the check itself. The voucher portion outlines the content and purpose of the check. Aside from the voucher, the check portion works like a standard paper check.

What does a voucher check look like?

A voucher check is typically printed as a full sheet of paper, with the check at the top and two removable vouchers below. The vouchers contain additional payment information that usually isn’t included on a standard check.


Photo credit: iStock/fizkes

SoFi® Checking and Savings is offered through SoFi Bank, N.A. ©2022 SoFi Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.
SoFi members with direct deposit can earn up to 3.75% annual percentage yield (APY) interest on Savings account balances (including Vaults) and up to 2.50% APY on Checking account balances. There is no minimum direct deposit amount required to qualify for these rates. Members without direct deposit will earn 1.20% APY on all account balances in Checking and Savings (including Vaults). Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 12/16/2022. Additional information can be found at http://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet
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