12 Ways to Increase Rental Income From Your Vacation Home

Bought a vacation rental and wondering how to maximize your income from it?

First and foremost, shift into the mindset of an entrepreneur in the hospitality industry. You’re a businessperson now, and you need to think like one. In particular, focus on creating a strong product, marketing it, and building efficient business processes.

Ways to Increase Your Vacation Rental Income

Vacation rental properties rarely offer truly passive income. Even if you outsource property management, you still need to manage the manager. Instead, think of your vacation rental property as a side business you operate in addition to your full-time job.

Once you start approaching your vacation rental as a hospitality business, you can start optimizing that business to earn more revenue with less labor on your part.

1. Start With Strategic Finishes

After purchasing the property, your first project is putting it into marketable shape as quickly as possible. That includes any needed repairs, updates, and improvements. Don’t go overboard, but look for any obvious indicators of age in the property, including anything that looks dated or unattractive.

You should also be planning out your automation processes at this point, because they may impact your property updates. For example, you may decide to install a smart lock or key code lock on the front door (more on that later).

Think about any other smart home upgrades that may improve your marketing. Would guests feel more comfortable with a smart security system in place?

As you plan out your property’s finishes, keep resiliency in mind.

Aim to “tenant-proof” your property as much as possible, with scratch- and waterproof flooring such as luxury vinyl tile and door stoppers behind each door. Consider semi-gloss or glossy paint finishes to more easily wipe away scuffs, and use the same paint color throughout for easy touch-ups.

Your guests won’t be gentle with your property, so make it as indestructible as possible.

When your property repairs and updates are finished, it’s time to furnish and decorate it. You don’t need to buy furniture new; no guest expects to be the first person to have sat on the couch. But furniture needs to be tasteful and in good condition.

A word to the wise: Don’t decorate blandly. You are not operating a hotel, and one of the reasons guests choose to stay in a privately owned vacation home over a hotel is to get a more authentic experience. Tie in some local flavor and add a bit of your own personality.

Draw the line at political statements, though. I once stayed in an Airbnb filled with political posters and found them to be obnoxious and unprofessional.


2. Automate & Systematize Guests’ Stay

The less your guests must rely on you personally, the smoother their stay will be for both of you.

Find a way to automate guests’ check-in and checkout process, particularly their access to the unit. That could mean a smart door lock, a keypad lock, a lockbox, or keys left with a community office or doorman.

Note that smart door locks don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. You can buy the ULTRALOQ U-Bolt Pro for under $200, or go a little lower-tech with the AmazonBasics keypad lock for under $50.

Self-entry allows guests to arrive on their own schedule, rather than wasting both of your time in coordinating entry with you present.

But systematizing your renters’ stay doesn’t end at physical entry. You also need to plan for other frequent needs, such as gaining Wi-Fi access, and make them extremely intuitive and easy for your guests.

Create a concierge document that starts with bullets for the most common issues, such as the Wi-Fi network and password. You can then direct guests to longer explanations as needed. Consider a Google Document that you can both print physically for the unit and send a link digitally to guests before they arrive.

Automate this communication with guests. Create automated messages that go out to guests 48 hours before their arrival that include details like how to access the property, Wi-Fi information, and how to use any confusing appliances. Your concierge document can also include tips for local restaurants, attractions, and other entertainment.

As you systematize your vacation rental business, create policies for every contingency. That includes lost key policies and fees, late checkout procedures, pet policies and fees, your maid or cleaning service (which can be set up quickly through Handy.com), and backup contacts for times when you aren’t available.

In addition to operating a hospitality business, you also face standard landlord headaches like property repairs. Prepare for maintenance by building a network of contractors you can contact for immediate service, to minimize the risk of bad reviews and losing Airbnb guests over maintenance issues.


3. Perfect Your Pricing

One of the most fundamental building blocks for success as an Airbnb host is pricing.

To begin, ignore what long-term rental properties charge for monthly rents. Rather, look at them, but only to run a comparative cash flow analysis to determine which leasing model would generate more profit for your property.

Your competition as a vacation rental operator doesn’t include long-term rentals, but rather hotels and other comparable vacation units. Get a sense of what hotels and similar vacation rentals charge in your immediate area. Consider aiming for around 20% less on a nightly basis than nearby hotels.

Keep in mind that your pricing can and should rise as you establish yourself and your unit.

In the beginning, with few or no reviews, you’ll probably need to entice your first guests with bargain pricing. Once you establish legitimacy through reviews, you can raise your pricing to meet or slightly surpass nearby competitors. (More on building reviews shortly.)

Remember, pricing doesn’t end at your nightly rate. It also includes your cleaning fee, additional guest fees, pet fees, and any other fees you charge. By all means, charge a cleaning fee, but don’t use it as a backdoor gimmick to charge higher rates. Price it based on your actual cleaning fees, and keep your nightly rates transparent.


4. Incentivize Longer Stays

As with long-term rentals, the greatest labor and costs in managing short-term rentals come from turnovers. From cleaning to coordinating access with guests and answering their questions, it costs far more time and money to rent to 10 guests in a one-month period than to a single guest staying for an entire month.

What’s more, short bookings can actually cost you the more lucrative longer bookings. If someone rents your unit for one night, it prevents a prospective two-week guest from being able to book your unit for that block.

So, price accordingly. Charge a higher nightly rate for stays under a week, and then offer a discount for guests who stay at least seven days. Keep graduating that discount the longer they stay, up to a month.


5. Consider Pet-Friendly Policies — For a Price

Pet owners often have a hard time finding hotels and vacation rentals that accommodate their four-legged family members. That means a shortage of supply, which in turn creates an opportunity.

There’s certainly no shortage of demand. More than two-thirds of American households own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 survey by the American Pet Products Association.

Of course, pets cause more wear and tear on your rental property. That means you should charge extra for them to make it worth your while.

By accepting pets, you can not only collect more money on a nightly basis, but you can also attract more potential guests and achieve higher occupancy rates. And in the vacation rental business, profits come down to occupancy.

Young Woman Wearing Sweater Cuddling Pet Cat


6. Take a Multipronged Approach to Marketing

Putting together the perfect vacation rental listing is both an art and a science. Start your marketing with a killer rental listing.

First, hire a professional real estate photographer to take photos. It’s less expensive than you think, and it’s a one-time marketing expense that will continue paying off for years to come.

Photos should include several shots from different angles of each important room in the home. Pay particular attention to the kitchen, living spaces, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Show the photos to someone who has never been inside your property and ask them if they can visualize the layout and space.

Feature a few exterior shots as well, including the front of the property and any outdoor living spaces.

When filling out your listing profile, tick off each amenity, and select the bed sizes for each bedroom. Then in your written description, emphasize the property’s best features, and mention the most important amenities again.

If your location is a selling point, emphasize that as well. Include highlights like “Five-minute walk to the waterfront!” or “One block from the metro station!” Mention specific landmarks and tourist attractions nearby to boost your search rankings within vacation rental platforms — more on that momentarily.

Although Airbnb is the undisputed leader in the online vacation rental space, it is not the only player. Advertise your unit for rent on multiple platforms, including VRBO, Booking.com, and Craigslist. A previous player in this industry, HomeAway, was acquired by VRBO and merged in 2020.

But don’t stop there. Research ways you can market your vacation rental on social media, such as through local tourist groups on Facebook, or even paid Facebook ads.

The better your marketing reach, the higher your occupancy rate will be, which ultimately determines your bottom line.


7. Optimize for Search Rankings

Imagine your vacation rental is one of a hundred available in its neighborhood. A prospective guest logs into Airbnb and searches for units in that neighborhood — which ones does Airbnb display first, at the top of the page rather than buried at the end of that long list?

Vacation rental platforms have their own search algorithms, just like Google does. If you want your listings to appear first, you need to take pains to optimize for those algorithms.

First, listing platforms reward responsiveness. The faster you respond to inquiries, the higher the platforms will list your unit. Make it a priority to respond as quickly as possible, and if you can’t give prospects a precise answer immediately, at least reply back with a quick “I’ll check into that and follow up with you shortly.”

As with Google, click-through rate matters. That refers to the percent of users who see your listing title who actually click on it. So, boost your click-through rate by putting thought into your listing titles to make them irresistible. Your thumbnail photo also helps your click-through rate, so make it gorgeous.

Accept instant bookings, rather than requiring prospects to wait until you’ve manually reviewed them. Listing platforms include this as a search filter, so many prospects will never even see your listings if you don’t accept instant bookings.

Keep your calendar up to date. Airbnb rewards recency — the more recently your calendar was updated, the better.

Likewise, keep your listings up to date. Every two or three months, tweak your listings, perhaps to emphasize seasonal attractions in your area. This also makes a great time to review your listing for completeness within the listing platform, which also impacts your search rank.

“Completeness” refers to the percentage of available fields and selections that you’ve filled out. Even if you filled out every field before, they don’t remain static — listing platforms constantly add new features and options, and you need to stay current with them if you want your listings to appear before alternatives.

Be sure to mention local attractions in your listing description because some prospects search specifically for easy access to famous landmarks or other attractions. You want to make sure your listing appears front and center for those who do.

And, of course, the more positive ratings and reviews you have, the more platforms reward you with higher rankings.


8. Accrue Reviews ASAP

You can put together the best listing in the world, but if you have no reviews, guests will be reluctant to book with you.

Start with a simple two-pronged approach to scoring reviews. First, price your property competitively to beat your competition if you don’t have many reviews. Second, put together a guest follow-up strategy for securing reviews.

That strategy should include asking no fewer than three times for a review.

Mention it at the end of your checkout instructions message, then again in a post-checkout message thanking them for staying with you. Then leave a review for them as well, and message them to let them know you left a glowing review for them, and ask them if they would be willing to do the same if they enjoyed their stay.

Your goal is to reach 10 positive reviews as quickly as possible. When prospective guests see reviews in the double digits, they feel more confident in booking, and your occupancy rate will rise.


9. Create an Experience

As outlined above, you can and should automate your booking, check-in, and check-out processes as much as possible. Aim to make them so easy an 8-year-old could do it.

Send a series of messages out on an automated schedule. Spell out everything the guest needs to know about getting into your property and staying there comfortably.

Assemble a concierge document about how to use the various appliances in your unit, the best local restaurants, and standout local attractions. Mention both the famous nearby amenities they already know about and the insider scoop on local secrets.

For example: “Drop by the Bulldog for an iconic Amsterdam bar experience, but then walk over to Door 74, a tiny, hidden speakeasy with no signage and a Prohibition-era vibe.”

It’s those more unique guest experiences your renters will remember and rave about later both publicly in their reviews and privately to their friends.

Leave a bottle of wine or some other gesture that they wouldn’t receive at a hotel. You don’t need to spend much money on it, and half your guests won’t drink it anyway, but it makes a great first impression. Underneath it, leave a brief handwritten note welcoming them by name. And, of course, chocolates on the pillows don’t hurt either.

People remember the little things, the small touches that remind them why they chose an alternative to bland corporate hotels.

Bottle Of Wine Rose Red Woman Relaxing At Home Sofa Barefoot


10. Explore Co-Hosting

If you manage your own vacation rental, and other nearby units also serve as vacation rentals, start networking with the other neighboring owners. You can co-host for each other, or simply have one owner co-host for all the neighborhood units as a side hustle.

Co-hosts share property management responsibilities, such as communicating with guests, managing check-ins and checkouts, coordinating repairs, and more. See Airbnb’s explanation for a full list of responsibilities that co-hosts can perform. In compensation, the primary host can pay co-hosts a percentage of the nightly rate, a percentage of the cleaning fee, or both.

They can make an affordable and convenient way to outsource management, whether temporarily — for example, while you’re on vacation — or permanently. Or, if you live near the units yourself, co-hosting for neighboring vacation rentals offers an easy side gig to earn some extra money on other people’s properties.


11. Protect Yourself & Your Property

One way to protect your property is to physically make it damage-resistant, as mentioned above. But protection doesn’t end there.

Think carefully about the security deposit you charge. Charge as much as you think you can without scaring off guests.

Platforms such as Airbnb include some protections for hosts, and you should familiarize yourself with them. If you don’t use a platform and rent independently, look into other ways you can protect against damage, such as preauthorizing the guest’s card for an additional damage deposit, but not running the charge unless they cause damage.

But your guests aren’t the only people you need to worry about. If you buy the property with a family member, friend, or other partner, it inevitably causes conflict to one degree or another.

The most common disputes involve one partner wanting to use the property more often than the others, financial disputes over expenses, and disputes when one owner wants to sell and the others can’t afford to buy them out.

I’ve seen all of these disputes play out in my own family, and can attest firsthand to how vicious they can get — vicious enough to permanently poison relationships, even close family relationships.

Protect yourself by signing an agreement with your partners upon buying a property detailing exactly how you’ll split revenue, responsibilities, and access to the property, and spelling out the process you’ll follow if one partner wants to sell while others don’t.

A little foresight today can save a lot of stress and infighting tomorrow.

Further protect yourself with contingency plans in the event that laws or market conditions change.

Local regulation presents a real threat to vacation rental owners — cities like New York, San Francisco, and Santa Monica all but outlaw private properties being offered to short-term guests. Your city could change its regulations at any time, and you need a backup plan to protect against such seismic shifts.

Run the numbers to calculate how your property would create cash flow as a long-term rental, as one contingency plan. As another, look into leasing your property as a furnished corporate rental, for example, to travel nurses.

As a last resort, you can always sell the property, but it typically takes a few years for properties to appreciate enough to cover the closing costs from both the initial purchase and the eventual sale. But always have contingency plans in place, to protect against losses if conditions change.


12. Optimize Your Taxes

Vacation rental owners can benefit from both investment property tax breaks and small business tax breaks.

As a business owner, you can deduct expenses that you might otherwise have to itemize in order to take, allowing you to take the standard deduction while still deducting specific expenses. For example, you could potentially deduct for travel, home office, and charitable donations from your business, all while still taking the standard deduction. Just be careful not to get carried away and trigger an audit with the IRS.

Meanwhile, real estate investors get their own tax benefits. You can deduct costs from property management to maintenance, utilities to depreciation.

Beware, however, that a few cities — such as Santa Monica — require vacation rental owners to pay additional taxes. Make sure you include that expense when you run the cash flow numbers before you invest in a vacation rental in one of those cities.


Final Word

It’s a fun idea to own a vacation rental you can occasionally use yourself while earning some extra income.

But in many markets, it remains a competitive industry, and often property owners find themselves losing money at the end of the year without enough occupancy, particularly during slow seasons.

Always run conservative numbers when you calculate cash flow, and never lose sight of the fact that the property is an investment. Don’t get attached to any given property, or even to the idea. In real estate as well as stocks, emotion is the enemy of investing.

Even if the cash flow numbers work for a prospective vacation rental, run them for contingency plans such as using the property as a long-term rental. You never know when market conditions will change; look no further than the collapse of the travel industry in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and the energetic rebound in 2021.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express Review

Advertiser Disclosure: This post includes references to offers from our partners. We receive compensation when you click on links to those products. However, the opinions expressed here are ours alone and at no time has the editorial content been provided, reviewed, or approved by any issuer.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is a popular small business credit card with a fairly standard rewards program and no annual fee. Like many other Amex business credit cards, the rewards program is based on Membership Rewards, a proprietary portal that allows you to redeem for a wide range of merchandise and cash equivalents.

Blue Business Plus is meant for business owners with good to excellent credit. It competes with a number of other popular small business credit cards, including  Capital One Spark Miles for Business. Blue Business Plus also competes with American Express’s color-coded business card family, which includes the Plum Card, Business Green Rewards, Business Gold Rewards, and the Business Platinum Card.

Key Features

These are the most important features of the Blue Business Plus Credit Card from American Express.

Welcome Offer

Earn 15,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $3,000 in eligible purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of card membership.

Membership Rewards and Redemption

Get rewarded for business as usual. Earn 2X Membership Rewards® points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners. The 2X rate applies to the first $50,000 in purchases per year, and 1 point per dollar thereafter.

You can redeem accumulated Membership Rewards points for general merchandise, travel, transportation (including Uber rides), gift cards, statement credits, and other items at Amex’s Membership Rewards portal. Point values vary by redemption method, with merchandise generally worth $0.01 per point and statement credits worth $0.006 per point.

Introductory APR

There is a 0% introductory APR for 12 months from account opening date on purchases. For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.

Regular APR

Following the end of the introductory period, variable regular APR applies. It’s currently 13.24% to 19.24% variable, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.

Important Fees

Blue Business Plus has no annual fee or fees for additional employee cards. Foreign transactions cost 2.7%. Late and returned payments cost up to $39 each. See rates and fees.

Spend Above Your Credit Limit

Blue Business Plus comes with a spending limit. However, cardholders can spend above their credit limits without first applying for a higher limit, provided they pay off the amount spent above the limit in full by their statement due date. Above-limit spending is not unlimited – according to American Express, it “adjusts with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to American Express, and other factors.”

Additional Business Benefits

Blue Business Plus comes with a nice lineup of business-friendly benefits, including digital receipt storage, expense tagging and tracking, and the ability to designate an employee as your account manager and dispute resolution point person.

Credit Required

This card requires good to excellent credit.

Advantages

  1. No Annual Fee. Blue Business Plus doesn’t have an annual fee. That’s a nice contrast to other popular small business cards.
  2. Long Introductory APR Period. Blue Business Plus’s 0% APR introductory period lasts for 12 months from account opening. That’s much more generous than many fellow competing business cards, and in line with top low APR consumer credit cards. Once the introductory APR period ends, variable regular APR applies.
  3. Good for Business Owners Without Stellar Credit. Although Blue Business Plus requires good to excellent credit, it’s not the most exclusive card out there. If you don’t have major blemishes on your credit record, there’s a good chance you’re going to be approved for this card. That’s certainly not the case for more exclusive American Express business products, such as Business Gold Rewards and Business Platinum.

Disadvantages

  1. Has a Foreign Transaction Fee. Blue Business Plus comes with a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not ideal for business owners who frequently travel abroad. If you’re looking for a piece of plastic that doesn’t penalize you for setting foot in other countries, try one of the Capital One Spark cards.
  2. Points Accumulate Slowly. Blue Business Plus earns just 1 Membership Rewards point per $1 spent after the first $50,000 in purchases each year. That’s a slower rate of accumulation than some direct competitors, including Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card.
  3. Point Values Can Be Low. Come redemption time, Membership Rewards points’ values vary based on what they’re being redeemed for. Merchandise redemptions are usually worth $0.01 per point, but cash equivalents can be worth much less – $0.005 or $0.006, in some cases. By contrast, the Capital One Spark family’s miles or cash back points are always worth $0.01 apiece, while Chase Ink Business Preferred‘s points can be worth as much as $0.0125 at redemption or even more when points are transferred to travel partners. If you’re looking for a generous business loyalty program, look to that card.

Final Word

American Express has a somewhat deserved reputation as an issuer of gold-plated and platinum-plated cards with luxurious fringe benefits, impeccable service, and generous loyalty features. Many of the company’s high-end cards live up to this image – but not all of them.

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express is a middle-of-the-road rewards card that doesn’t require massive revenues or an off-the-charts credit score – a true business credit card for the rest of us. Blue Business Plus’ broad appeal does come with some drawbacks, including a so-so rewards system, but there are worse cards out there. If you don’t qualify for a more generous American Express card at the moment, it’s not a bad place to start.

For rates and fees of the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, please visit this rates and fees page.

Source: moneycrashers.com

5 Ways to Save on Extracurriculars for Your Kids

Extracurricular activities are great for children. They help kids learn new things and perfect their skills. They provide opportunities to bond with peers and a constructive use of time. They look great on college and scholarship applications.

But all that enrichment comes at a cost. And these nonessential additions to the household budget can be expensive to keep up with — especially when you have multiple children with multiple interests.

Huntington Bank and Communities in Schools’ 2019 Backpack Index estimates extracurricular fees average about $150 for elementary students, $250 for middle school students and $350 for high school students. Of course, there are parents who spend much more.

If the cost of after-school activities concerns you, consider these ways to make them more affordable.

5 Ways to Save on Extracurriculars This School Year

These money-saving tips will help you keep the kids happy without upsetting your finances.

1. Turn to Government or Nonprofit Programs

Before signing your kids up for private music lessons or a traveling sports league, check to see if there are similar offerings located at or sponsored by your local:

  • School
  • Church
  • Library system
  • YMCA
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Police Athletic League
  • Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
  • United Way
  • Salvation Army
  • City or county parks and recreation department
  • Community college

2. Ask About Discounts

Be thrifty and save where you can by asking the activity provider about discounts. Is there a trial period where your kid can take a class or two for free before signing up for the season? Can you get a discounted rate for being a returning participant, enrolling more than one child or recommending another family to sign up?

Some programs offer a reduced rate if you register before a certain date, if you sign up for a package of sessions or if you volunteer to coach. Others offer scholarships or set their prices on a sliding scale based on income. You might want to ask if the organization will allow you to set up a payment plan rather than requiring all the money upfront.

Pro Tip

Check discount sites like Groupon or Living Social for current deals on activities.

3. Reduce the Other Costs of After-School Activities

The cost to enroll your child in an activity is rarely the only expense you’ll encounter. Equipment, supplies, uniforms, fundraisers, travel and performance tickets can greatly increase your investment.

Find ways to lower these additional costs whenever possible. Arrange a carpool with team members. Buy secondhand equipment and attire. Limit the family members who attend smaller performances throughout the year, and save up so everyone can attend the major show at the end of the season.

4. DIY Your Extracurriculars

Your kid can get the benefits of participating in an activity without it being a formal program that you pay for. Consider your children’s interests and figure out how to pursue them on an individual scale.

If your kid is into music, hit up YouTube for free tutorials. There are tons of cooking blogs with detailed recipes for those who want to master baking. Your library may provide free access to software to learn a foreign language.

Tap into your network of family, friends and neighbors to expose your child to different pursuits. Commit to teaching their kids about a skill you’ve mastered in exchange. For example, your friend could teach your kids how to play the guitar while you give their kids cooking lessons.

It might be a bigger investment in time, but you can save a lot of money by creating your own means of developing your child’s interests.

5. Talk to Your Kids About Making Sacrifices

There may be times where you simply have to say no to your kid’s request to enroll in another extracurricular activity. If you don’t have the funds and you’d have to charge expenses on a credit card, you should reevaluate things.

Parents never want to put financial stress on their kids, but it’s okay to be up-front about the limitations of your budget. This might mean having your kids choose one sport to commit to rather than two, or asking if they prefer dance lessons over vacationing at the beach next summer.

If you have teenagers, get them to contribute to their extracurricular expenses with money from babysitting, mowing lawns or a part-time job. Depending on the activity, you can challenge your child to turn their hobby into an entrepreneurial pursuit — like selling handmade bracelets at local festivals or giving piano lessons to younger kids.

Not only will this help your teens afford the extracurriculars they want, you’ll also be teaching them a valuable lesson about personal finance that’ll hopefully carry on into adulthood.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a parent who’s always looking for ways to save money.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

What is APR? Info and Tips on Lowering Annual Percentage Rates

From credit cards to mortgages, APRs can be one of the most confusing aspects of securing a loan. While monthly or annual interest is rather straightforward, APRs encompass extraneous fees that aren’t immediately obvious. A higher APR can significantly affect how much money you owe, so isn’t it time to wrap your head around this slippery concept? Let’s take a closer look.

Have a specific question in mind? Use the links below to jump straight to what you want to know:

APR Definition

APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate” and represents the rate of interest you’ll pay when you take out a loan. This could include closing costs, mortgage insurance, and any other expense associated with borrowing money. Essentially, it helps you understand how expensive it will be to take out a certain loan. The APR indicates some of the fees associated with the loan as an interest rate so you know what to expect in the long term life of the loan.

Let’s break it down even further. When taking out a mortgage, car loan, or any other non-credit card loan, the interest rate and APR are defined as two separate amounts. The interest rate refers to the percentage you’ll pay on a monthly or annual basis to borrow the money loaned to you. APR refers to the full cost per year of borrowing the money, averaged over the full term of the loan. Typically, the additional fees included in an APR are added to the principal loan balance and accrue interest over the term of the loan.

It’s common for borrowers to get enticed by low monthly interest rates when they go loan shopping. Who wouldn’t choose a 5% interest rate over a 10% interest rate? But if the loan with 5% interest has a high APR, that signals there are additional expenses associated with the loan that could actually make it a more expensive choice. With a higher APR, your annual interest payments will increase since all these extra fees you have to pay are tacked onto your original loan amount.

However, the terms of APRs vary depending on what type of money loan you’re taking out. Remember all those pre-approved credit card offers you get in the mail? You’ve probably seen the envelopes advertising 0% introductory APR as a way to entice you to sign up. The APR and interest rate are the same percentage for a line of credit because there typically aren’t any additional fees associated with opening a credit card. Even if you pay an annual fee or extra late fees, companies aren’t allowed to include those in the APR.

So to recap, when does APR really matter? Whenever you take out a loan that is not a revolving line of credit. Houses and cars are the most common example of when you’ll be tasked with sifting through various APR offers. Remember, APRs give a fuller picture of what you’ll pay in interest and associated fees in addition to the principal amount of money you’re borrowing.

How to Calculate APR

Under the Truth in Lending Act, lenders are required to display APRs so borrowers can easily compare rates while searching for a loan or credit card. Even though APRs should be clearly stated on all documents related to the loan, it’s still helpful to know exactly how they’re calculated.

Investopedia uses this example to explain how APR is calculated for a mortgage:

“If you were considering a mortgage for $200,000 with a 6% interest rate, your annual interest expense would amount to $12,000, or a monthly payment of $1,000. But say your home purchase also requires closing costs, mortgage insurance, and loan origination fees in the amount of $5,000. In order to determine your mortgage loan’s APR, these fees are added to the original loan amount to create a new loan amount of $205,000. The 6% interest rate is then used to calculate a new annual payment of $12,300. Divide the annual payment of $12,300 by the original loan amount of $200,000 to get an APR of 6.15%.”

What is Variable APR?

As you compare APRs, you’re guaranteed to see fixed APRs and variable APRs. The difference between the two options is rather simple: fixed APR is a percentage rate that does not fluctuate, while variable APR may change in relation to an index interest rate. The index your APR is based on can vary depending on the type of loan and the lender, but the Prime Rate drafted in the Wall Street Journal is one of the most common. This rate acts as a base number, and additional percentage points are added onto your APR from there depending on factors such as your creditworthiness, lender fees, etc.

The appeal of a variable APR comes with the idea that if the index decreases, so will your APR. For the past few years, the Prime Rate has increased steadily by .25% each quarter. Whether you choose a fixed APR or variable APR depends entirely upon personal circumstances and whether you are comfortable with the possibility of your loan payment fluctuating.

APR for Credit Cards

As we mentioned earlier, a credit card’s interest rate and APR are interchangeable terms. If you don’t pay off your debt every month and carry over a balance, you will be charged a percentage of that balance in addition to the total amount you owe. That percentage is the interest rate (or APR) and does not include any additional fees. Typically, credit cards will have a range of different APRs based on your creditworthiness. It’s crucial to read the fine print of a contract before signing up for a credit card because you may find yourself paying far more than the introductory APR offering.

Another common phrase you’ll see when applying for a new credit card is “prime rate.” Cards with a variable APR—one that can fluctuate throughout the life of the line of credit—often use the Prime Rate as a benchmark from which to set their APRs.

Types of Credit Card APRs

Depending on how you use your credit card, you might run into various types of APRs with different percentages. Make sure to take a look at all the different rates to ensure you won’t get hit with a payment that will take a significant financial toll.

Purchase APR

This rate is the standard APR that applies to all the purchases you make on your card if you don’t pay off your debt by the monthly due date.

Penalty APR

This rate could apply if your payment is more than 60 days past due or a payment has been returned. Be aware that these are typically higher than your purchase APR.

Cash Advance APR

This rate can come into play when you use your credit card to withdraw cash from an ATM or cash a credit card check. These usually are higher than purchase APRs and apply immediately to the transaction without a grace period.

Balance Transfer APR

Depending on your credit card, you may be able to get a balance transfer APR for a low rate or even a rate of 0%. However, many cards still carry a significant balance transfer APR. This applies to any balance you transfer from another card onto your current credit card.

How to Lower Your Credit Card APR

Despite credit card APRs being rather straightforward, it’s never a bad idea to try and negotiate the lowest percentages that you can. A study from the United States Public Interest Research Group found that 56% of consumers who called their credit card companies hung up the phone with a lower APR. However, there are risks involved when you ask for a lower APR. Your bank or credit card company may take another look at your account, and if they don’t like what they see, your line of credit has the potential to get docked as it could require a hard credit pull. Before you get on the phone, make sure you’re prepared with the proper material.

Know Your Credit

Before making any requests to change your APR, make sure you know where your credit score stands. Do you have any late payments? Any recent credit applications? How about high debt-to-credit ratios? You’re allowed to order a free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three credit bureaus, or can get a bigger-picture look at your credit health using Turbo. While a credit score of 700 or above is considered good, the higher, the better. The higher your credit score and the cleaner your history, the more likely you’ll be able to negotiate a lower APR.

Gather Lower Rate Offers

A key part of the negotiation process is presenting competitive offers you’ve received from other credit cards. Translation? Show your current company that you’re serious about taking your business elsewhere if they won’t negotiate with you. Take a look at all the balance-transfer offers that are mailed to you or browse the websites of major credit card companies to find their best deals. Try to gather three to four rates that are better than your current card. Once you’re on the phone with a representative, be sure to mention these rates and how you’d prefer an APR similar to those offers.

Ask the Right Person

Persistence is key when negotiating a lower credit card APR. Call the customer service line on the back of your card and start the conversation. If the representative says they aren’t currently negotiating annual percentage rates, ask to speak to a supervisor. Sometimes, it’s all about talking to the right person. If you demonstrate to a manager your determination to get a better rate or take your business elsewhere, there’s more likely to be movement in favor of your request.

Remember, approach this conversation with a positive tone. Discuss how you’ve enjoyed your experience with this company and how your track record has proven your responsibility with handling a line of credit. Then it’s time to dive into how you could be getting better rates elsewhere but don’t want to go through the hassle of transferring balances. Even an APR reduction by a point or two could make a big difference and help you pay back your debt more quickly.

Be Prepared with Paperwork

While you’re on the phone, be sure you’re prepared to provide any additional paperwork your card issuer might want. This could include proof of income or past tax returns—any paperwork to prove that you are in a financial position to continue paying back your debt and deserve a lower APR. Even if these documents aren’t required, it’s never a bad idea to be overprepared.

How to Lower Your APR on Loans

Negotiating a lower APR for your mortgage, car loan, or other personal loan will likely take the route of refinancing instead of simply asking for a reduction. Refinancing is the process of transferring your current loan over to another lender or updating your terms with the current lender in order to take advantage of better terms and rates. A reduction in monthly payments could make a significant difference in paying off the loan or tamping down debt in other areas of your life.

Refinancing a Mortgage

Many homeowners choose to refinance their mortgages to take advantage of lower interest rates and APRs. The process typically follows these steps:

  • Determine your goals: Whether you want to switch from an adjustable-rate mortgage to a fixed-rate mortgage, tap into your home’s equity, or get a better interest rate, figure out what you’re looking for during this important financial process. Going into negotiations with a specific goal in mind will help keep conversations on track and the outcome in your favor.
  • Perform a credit check: Make sure there are no errors on your credit report that may jeopardize your ability to obtain a favorable loan. If you do find errors on your report, you can dispute them with the credit reporting bureau that provided your report to have them removed.
  • Know the value of your house: Determine your home’s current value, either through checking recent home sale prices in your neighborhood or getting an official appraisal. If your home is valued at or above the amount you want to refinance your loan for, it’s much more likely it will be approved.
  • Choose a lender: Check with the Consumer Affairs database to ensure you are refinancing through a qualified U.S. mortgage lender.
  • Shop around: Don’t choose your current lender for the refinance option alone; look at other rates you could acquire if you switch lenders.
  • Steer clear of fees: Understand what kind of fees and closing costs refinancing will require, and factor that into which offer you decide to take.
  • Lock-in your rate: Determine an interest rate that suits your needs and lock it in before closing to ensure you receive the refinancing terms you want.

Refinancing a Car

To get a lower APR on your car loan, the standard steps for refinancing include:

  • Performing a credit check: Take a look at your credit score to see if you’ll be able to qualify for a loan. A history of late payments could look like a red flag to lenders.
  • Revisiting paperwork: Read through all the terms for your current car loan and make sure you have a firm understanding of what you’re currently paying. Don’t go into a negotiation blind, otherwise, you won’t know what APR offer is better than your current APR.
  • Researching competitors: Shop around for other loans with better rates that fit your financial needs. It’s smart to leverage competing offers in order to bring the terms of your auto loan down to where you want them.
  • Applying: When you submit an application, the lender will pre-qualify you if you meet all the requirements for obtaining a loan.
  • Selecting an option: Depending on how many applications you submitted, you’ll be able to choose the refinancing option that works best for you.
  • Finalizing the refinance: Enjoy the benefits of new loan terms and APRs that help you manage your repayment schedule.

At the end of the day, understanding the APR on your loan or credit card can make a huge impact on your financial health. Negotiating a lower annual percentage rate is never an easy task, but there are tips and tricks that can make it more likely to fall in your favor. With a firm grasp on how an APR affects the repayment schedule of your loan or line of credit, reaching financial stability will be easier than ever before.

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Source: mint.intuit.com