Personal finance

36% of Americans plan to take on debt for summer travel. Here’s why that worries financial experts

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Some people could find themselves wrangling with summer travel bills well after Labor Day.

To that point, 36% of Americans said they plan to take on debt in order to travel this summer, according to a March survey from Bankrate. The payment methods for summer travel expenses ranged from personal loans (5%) and buy now, pay later services (8%) to borrowing from family and friends (6%).

Additionally, 26% of summer travelers said they intend to use a credit card and pay over for the vacation over multiple billing cycles.

“The reason that’s worrisome is because the average credit card charges more than 20%, which is close to a record high,” said Ted Rossman, a senior credit card industry analyst at Bankrate.

“I don’t want to tell people they can’t have any fun,” he said. “But this represents a lot of people taking on expensive debt, and this is the kind of thing that can linger.”

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Millennials (47%) and Gen Zs (42%) are the demographic cohort most likely to say they plan to go into debt to pay for vacation, according to Bankrate.

“There are so many compelling reasons why people choose to take on debt to have these vacations,” said Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist.

“If your kids are dreaming of going to Disney World and there’s no way the family could ever really swing it without going into debt, it could be a memory the family will have forever,” she said by way of example.

“And parents often can rationalize spending in these terms for their children, especially when the trip feels like such an important, seminal part of childhood,” she added.

How to have fun on a budget: ‘Zig when others zag’

Financial experts advise that the key to affording a vacation is to plan ahead and budget accordingly.

“Money on trips can feel like Monopoly money,” Romanoff said. “For some reason, we’re much more willing to just say yes to the experience because we’re just in this, like, luxurious mindset.”

For that reason, Romanoff advises her clients to set a budget for categories of spending while traveling such as food, activities and transportation.

Romanoff also suggests to give yourself areas where you splurge and those in which you spend conservatively.

“I had a client I worked with who decided they were going to stay in an Airbnb, and they were going to cook all of their food, so they were going to save on food and they were going to splurge on this boat trip they were really excited about, and it felt like a compromise,” Romanoff said.

The next step after establishing a budget is making a plan to save. Romanoff recommends starting small and setting aside a little bit of money from each paycheck.

People can also find other creative ways to save and to make the most of their trips. For example, Rossman suggests taking advantage of frequent flier miles or other credit card rewards.

Travelers can also save by choosing to visit locations at different times of the year. Lower demand usually leads to lower prices.

“Zig when others zag,” Rossman said. “Maybe travel in the offseason or the shoulder season, or drive instead of fly, or travel midweek instead of on the weekend. If you can let the deal dictate the destination, that can really help you out. Flexibility is key.”

Watch the video above to learn more about how Americans are paying for summer vacation.

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