Airbnb Cleaning Fees Can Be Brutal. Here’s How to Cope

Between the higher prices and reduced service, hotels have been getting a lot of flak recently. But in the debate between hotels versus Airbnbs, there’s one common Airbnb fee that you likely won’t find at hotels — at least not yet: cleaning fees.

Hidden travel costs like cleaning fees are commonplace on Airbnb. They are explained as a one-time fee pocketed by the host to cover the cost of cleaning their space. Cleaning fees come on top of the base price and a service fee (which Airbnb pockets).

But why are Airbnb cleaning fees so high — or are they? Just how much do Airbnb cleaning fees cost?

A June 2022 NerdWallet analysis looked at data from 1,000 U.S. Airbnb reservations with check-in dates in 2022 or 2023 across a range of locations, sizes and quality. The analysis only considered “entire place” properties, as opposed to part of a shared home.

Let’s dig into what we found about the dreaded Airbnb cleaning fee.

What Airbnb cleaning fees cost

Cleaning fees vary wildly, ranging from $0 to many hundreds of dollars. The median cleaning fee per listing for a one-night stay was $75, based on NerdWallet’s analysis.

Of the listings analyzed, 14% didn’t have a cleaning fee at all. With these stays, the base rate includes not just the ability to lay your head on that pillow, but to have it cleaned too — much like a hotel.

And while the median cleaning fee is $75, it’s important to understand the cleaning fee relative to the broader cost of the home rental. A $75 fee to clean up a 12-bedroom ski cabin might feel like a deal, but a $75 cleaning fee on a simple 400-square foot studio apartment might feel outrageous.

The $75 median cleaning fee amounts to about 25% of the total price paid for one-night stays at the listings analyzed. In fact, 34% of listings had a cleaning fee that was somewhere between 20 and 29.99% of the list price.

About a third of listings had cleaning fees amounting to less than 20% of the price. Surprisingly, 8% of listings had a cleaning fee that amounted to 40% or more of the overall price tag, assuming you stayed in the Airbnb for just one night. And some outliers are especially mind-boggling.

With that in mind, NerdWallet compared the cleaning fee against the base price.

Most low-cost Airbnbs have low-cost cleaning fees, hence the large cluster of dots in the bottom-left corner. Certainly, some expensive listings have hefty cleaning fees, hence the results on the opposite end of the chart.

But then there are some standouts. There’s a $1,000 listing with a $0 cleaning fee. There’s a $304 listing with a $300 cleaning fee.

And then, there are the bizarre cases where the cleaning fee is more than the base price.

Depending on seasonal rates, you might end up paying more for cleaning than you do for your stay.

Here’s one example of that — a four-bedroom Airbnb in Scottsdale, Arizona. Prices vary by night, with summer stays typically costing a lot less than in cooler seasons. In July, you can book one night for just $151. But the cleaning fees are fixed at $239, meaning that the $151 July nightly rate comes with a $239 cleaning fee — far more than the base rate itself. During Christmas weekend, the same listing has a nightly rate of $408. That makes the cleaning fee still hefty, but far more palatable.

The problems with Airbnb cleaning fees

Finding a listing in your price range can be tough

Cleaning fees can be hard to parse and make filtering listings by price complicated. You might have a nightly lodging budget of $200, so you set your filter to display homes with a maximum price of $200. But in doing so, you might still end up paying more, as you might find a delightful $100-per-night home with a $150 cleaning fee. Likewise, you might overlook a $210 per night home with a $0 cleaning fee.

There currently is no way to filter Airbnb rentals by cleaning fees.

You may still have to clean up after yourself

Just as hosts can set their own prices and fees, they can set their own house rules. It’s not uncommon for hosts to ask guests to take out the trash, run the dishwasher or start a load of laundry with the towels and sheets.

There’s no rule saying that Airbnbs can’t do both — charge cleaning fees and require some light housekeeping. That has caused outrage among some travelers.

You’re going to get “graded” as a guest

Because hosts can review guests, there is some pressure to be a good guest and follow the checkout cleaning protocols, as a bad review could jeopardize your ability to book future Airbnb stays.

Contrast that with hotel stays, which typically don’t require that guests have an account or positive reviews to stay. Unless you did something really bad, a major hotel chain won’t ban you, even if you tracked sand all over the floor and left towels strewn about everywhere.

One way to reduce Airbnb cleaning fees

Stay longer. Because cleaning fees are a one-time fee, you’ll pay the same rate whether you stay one day, two days or two weeks. So if the cleaning fee amounts to 25% of the rate for one night, it drops down to 12.5% of the rate for two nights. Spread a $150 cleaning fee over a two-week stay, and the cleaning fee shakes out to only about $10 per day. Had you stayed only one day, you’d still owe $150.

In general, Airbnbs tend to be far cheaper for long-term stays than hotels. But for short-term stays, it’s almost always cheaper to stay in hotels — and cleaning fees are a huge reason why.

If you can design your trip so that you stay in one Airbnb for many days versus staying at multiple Airbnbs over the same period, you’ll almost always save money.

When trip planning, choose a home base. If you’re planning a multi-week road trip in California, you might opt for an Airbnb in Orange County, as it’s roughly 100 miles south of Santa Barbara and 100 north of San Diego, making it possible to drive to both in one day. It’s also an even shorter drive to Los Angeles and Temecula.

Say you’re hitting Arizona and Utah’s canyon-filled recreational areas with national park visits to Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon. It might make more sense to book an Airbnb for longer in Kanab, Utah, which sits roughly in the center of the three parks.

Airbnb cleaning fees are brutal for short trips. If anything, the knowledge that you can spread out your cleaning fee over an extended stay might be an incentive to treat yourself to a vacation that’s a little longer.

Sam Kemmis contributed to this piece.

Sally French writes for NerdWallet.

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Are Airbnbs Really Cheaper for Large Groups?

For all the debate around whether Airbnbs are better than hotels, there’s one scenario where many seem to assume Airbnb is always superior: group travel.

Airbnbs can keep groups together. Staying under the same roof can simplify meetups. If the whole party starts and ends their days together, it can be easier to account for everyone. And seating the crew around a giant kitchen table might be easier than getting a group dinner reservation.

And a lot of travelers tend to assume that Airbnbs (or vacation rental alternatives like Vrbo or Hipcamp) are cheaper for large groups. But are they? And if so, how much cheaper?

A June 2022 NerdWallet study analyzed 1,000 U.S. Airbnb reservations with check-in dates in 2022 or 2023. Properties encompassed a range of locations and quality — though the study only considered “entire place” properties (as opposed to a single room in a larger home). Those Airbnb prices were then compared against a NerdWallet database of nearly 1,000 U.S. hotel rooms in the same cities, also spread across a range of classes and locations.

At first glance, Airbnbs always appear more expensive. Whereas the median nightly U.S. hotel room was $178, the median Airbnb was $314 (both inclusive of all taxes and fees).

But those two comparisons aren’t exactly fair. After all, a hotel room can likely only accommodate two people, whereas Airbnbs can often accommodate more than that. Thus, when broken down per person, Airbnbs can often be far cheaper — and here’s how much.

Hotels vs. Airbnb: What’s the cost per person?

NerdWallet broke out the price per head to understand whether Airbnbs are really cheaper for groups.

This study assumed two adults per hotel room. That’s because — while some hotels charge the same price whether four adults cozy up across two queen beds in one room — others actually charge more. A separate NerdWallet analysis of U.S. Hilton room rates found that prices tend to average 11% more when the reservation is for four versus two adults.

For Airbnb stays, NerdWallet grouped rentals into two categories: rentals with a max capacity of two adults and rentals with a max of six adults.

In almost every scenario, groups of six save significantly when booking a large Airbnb versus three hotel rooms. But for groups of two, hotels tend to come out cheaper per head. Here’s the cost breakdown per person:

For groups of six, the median nightly price per person to stay in a large Airbnb was about 33% cheaper versus booking three hotel rooms. But a single hotel room turns out to be 29% cheaper than a small Airbnb.

But those are nationwide numbers, and there can sometimes be high variability depending on the location. Here were some standout cities in NerdWallet’s research:

In Chicago and Dallas, the median hotel price was always more expensive than Airbnbs per head, no matter the group size. Meanwhile, the median hotel in Los Angeles and Philadelphia was always cheaper than Airbnb.

Yet in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Akron, Ohio, prices were mixed. Hotels were cheaper than Airbnbs for groups of two, but more expensive for groups of six.

When a hotel still might make sense for large groups

Just because the cost per head is lower doesn’t necessarily mean you should ditch the hotel for your family reunion, bachelorette party or other group trip. In some scenarios, hotels are still superior for groups.

You can earn or redeem loyalty rewards

While there are some backdoor ways to earn or redeem points on Airbnb stays, Airbnb doesn’t have its own loyalty program. Points, which can often be easily attained through hotel credit card sign-up bonuses, can make hotels free or cheap. Hotel loyalty programs also tend to include money-saving benefits like free hotel night certificates and free breakfast.

For a large group heading to Disneyland, the Hyatt Place Anaheim’s free breakfast buffet can be faster than cooking at the Airbnb kitchen, and cheaper than paying for theme park meals. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt)

You’ll maximize the amenities

Speaking of free hotel breakfast, many major hotel chains promise it. Some, like Embassy Suites by Hilton, additionally offer a free evening happy hour including appetizers.

If cooking in the Airbnb is not your jam, then a large group could quickly rack up a big restaurant bill. Keeping the group together at the hotel breakfast buffet might be easier anyway.

Hotels are also more likely to offer amenities and conveniences like an airport shuttle, kid’s club or a crib that you likely won’t find in an Airbnb.

The location is more convenient

While the study evaluated hotels versus Airbnbs in the same cities, it wasn’t able to account for granularity of location. Often, hotels are in the heart of the city near prime tourist attractions. Airbnbs, while cheaper, might be 5 miles away. Staying at an Airbnb, you might need a rental car (and maybe a few) if your group is big. A well-situated hotel might enable you to walk and ditch the rental car completely. That could be a particular money saver these days, considering May 2022 rental car prices are up 69% versus the same month in 2019, according to Consumer Price Index data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When an Airbnb might still make sense for couples

Yet even if the sticker price is more expensive, you might find Airbnbs makes sense. Here are a few reasons why.

An Airbnb in Sydney, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

You need features like a kitchen or laundry

Even if a kitchen is promised, hotel kitchens tend to be middling (often consisting of a mini fridge, a microwave and a cooktop — if you’re lucky). Laundry almost always costs extra.

While not always the case, most Airbnbs include full kitchens and laundry rooms. According to the USDA, the cost of food in the U.S. for the average adult cooking at home in May 2022 ranged from about $55 and $100 per person, per week, with variations based on amount and quality of food consumed. When exclusively dining out on vacation, it can be easy to spend that much per day.

And while cooking at home can be a money saver for penny pinchers, it could be a lifesaver for those with dietary restrictions. For outdoor trips involving adventures like skiing or fishing, laundry might be necessary.

You’re staying in a remote area

While trips to National Parks or other remote outdoor areas are becoming more popular, the number of hotels accessible to those areas hasn’t caught up. The closest Marriott to Maine’s Acadia National Park is still about an hour away, yet there are dozens of Airbnb listings on Mount Desert Island, where the park is located. Hilton only just opened its first hotel this May in the Yosemite area — the Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite.

When hotels are sold out, outrageously expensive or nonexistent, vacation rentals might be your only option.

Airbnb once offered a Winnie-the-Pooh-themed “Bearbnb” near London. (Photo courtesy of Airbnb)

You want a unique experience

While some say Airbnb has lost its luster as mom-and-pop vacation rentals give way to corporate property management behemoths, some Airbnbs are still delightfully charming. If you’re seeking to cozy up to the locals, you’ll more likely befriend your Airbnb host who made you breakfast versus the bellhop who brought your bags to your room.

And while you can certainly find unique hotels, you’ll have better luck on Airbnb reserving a geodesic dome on the beach, a treehouse or a one-of-a-kind Hundred Acre Wood replica on Airbnb.

The bottom line

Airbnbs are typically more expensive for parties of two versus traditional hotels. But, they tend to be far cheaper for larger groups seeking a multiroom vacation rental versus booking multiple hotel rooms.

It’s unlikely that six people will all cram into one hotel room together, yet booking three hotel rooms can get pricey. Airbnbs can help you keep the group together and, in most cities, save you money.

In short, large groups should almost always consider Airbnbs if budget is a priority. But do your own comparison shopping before booking, as prices can vary by city.

Sam Kemmis and JT Genter contributed to this piece.

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How to Afford Big-Ticket Items for the Year

When Brandy Baxter needed to replace her home’s entire heating and air conditioning system several years ago, she asked contractors if they offered deals at certain times of the year. She learned that if she waited until February, the slow season for such work, she could get a lower price. Baxter, a financial coach based in Dallas, says she saved around $6,000 as a result.

When it comes to saving money on big purchases, sometimes timing really is everything. Taking advantage of certain holiday weekends and seasonal discounts can lead to significant savings, which is especially helpful with inflation continuing to push prices higher. Consumers can also consider their own cash flow fluctuations and shop for big-ticket items when they can better afford them.

“There are two overarching principles: Purchase items in the offseason and purchase items during holiday weekends,” says Kimberlee Stokes of Orlando, Florida, the founder of, a website aimed at moms who want to save money and get organized. “It does require some planning.”

Here’s how to time your shopping to get the most out of your budget.

Shop the biggest sales weekends

Traditionally, three weekends of the year — Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day  weekends — are the best for deals on appliances, furniture and mattresses, says Trae Bodge, smart-shopping expert at, which offers savings tips. For electronics, Black Friday in November is the ideal time to buy, followed closely by Amazon’s Prime Day sale, which is typically in July.

Bodge adds that some specific items have unique sales periods. Televisions typically see their lowest prices in late January and early February — right before the Super Bowl.

If you miss a specific sale, Stokes says not to worry. The key is to plan ahead and track prices so you can make purchases during price dips, such as seasonal lulls. Buy winter sports gear in summer, or outdoor furniture in fall, for example.

“If you can have some self-control and wait, you will get better deals,” she says.

It’s also worth looking out for markdowns associated with inventory buildups, as supply chain issues continue to cause hiccups. When chains like Target and Walmart have excess stock, they tend to offer big sales, sometimes at unexpected times.

Use tools to track prices and apply coupons

You don’t need to track prices manually — apps and browser extensions can take care of that work. The Honey browser extension pulls in coupons from across the web; CouponCabin alerts you to cash back and coupon opportunities; and Rakuten activates coupons and cash back from online stores at checkout. Amazon Assistant lets you know if Amazon offers a lower price when you’re shopping elsewhere.

“If you don’t have at least one extension installed on your computer, you’re leaving money on the table,” Bodge says. By tracking prices before sales weekends, you can make an informed decision about how good a deal is, she adds.

Baxter recommends saving items you’re tracking on a wish list, a service offered by many online retailers as an alternative to placing items in your cart.

“If I need retail therapy, I put it on the list, and then I can see when the price goes up or down,” Baxter says. “You can satisfy that desire for consumerism without separating yourself from your cash.” Sometimes, the retailer will alert you when the price of an item on your wish list drops.

Check for sales tax holidays

Many states offer sales tax-free holidays, which can be an ideal time to buy expensive items that aren’t otherwise on sale, Baxter suggests. Her state of Texas offers a sales tax holiday in early August, which coincides with back-to-school shopping, making it easier to pick up school supplies and other eligible items at a discount.

Consider your own cash flow

There are times of the year when you may experience increased cash flow from sources such as a tax refund, annual bonus or birthday and graduation gifts. If that’s the case, those can be ideal times to make large purchases without taking on debt, says Kevin Mahoney, the Washington, D.C.-based founder of Illumint, a financial planning firm for millennials.

Conversely, certain months tend to see more expenses for items like annual insurance payments, summer camp fees or holiday gifts. Avoiding other significant purchases during those times can help your budget absorb the many demands on it, Mahoney advises.

“It’s important to be aware of the times when costs come up and perhaps hold off on purchases until after those points have passed and you see how your budget has weathered those time periods,” he says.

Whenever possible, take your time

While sometimes you have no choice — for instance, buying a water heater replacement because yours broke — in many cases you can plan your purchases in advance. This lets you take advantage of sales periods, as well as gives you more time to research exactly what you want.

“Waiting to buy can give you more clarity,” Mahoney says — another reason to add items to a wish list before adding them to your cart.

Kimberly Palmer writes for NerdWallet.

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U.S. Drivers’ Gas Spending Soars Toward $562 Billion in 2022

If there were a poster child for current inflation, it would be the price of gasoline.

While prices on all goods and services across the country are up 9.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, gas prices are up 60% over the past year. And this increase puts American drivers on a path to spending as much as $562 billion on gasoline in 2022, roughly double the amount spent in 2020, before prices began their ascent.

The rising price of gas, like the prices on most other things, is the result of a perfect storm of unpleasant things — including a pandemic leading to supply chain and staffing issues, and a war in Ukraine disrupting global markets. The number of U.S. gas refineries in operation has still not reached pre-pandemic levels, and those in operation can’t keep up with increasing demand as Americans have taken to the roadways in full force.

But for many Americans at the pump, the “why” of rising gas prices doesn’t matter as much as the “how much.”

Gas prices by the numbers

Based on what we know about annual gasoline consumption, Americans likely spent about $105 on gas per vehicle in July 2020. In July 2022, it will likely be closer to $226. If this $121 markup was a one-month thing, it may be tolerable, but the high prices didn’t begin and won’t end in July. The national average price of gas hit over $5 a gallon in the second week of June, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and while it fell slightly in the weeks following (to $4.65 in the second week of July), it may climb again.

What this means across the nation: In all of 2020, Americans spent an estimated $279 billion on gasoline; in 2022, that total could reach $562 billion.

States where drivers are on track to spend the most include: Texas ($57B), California ($55B), Florida ($37B), New York ($21B), Georgia ($21B) — some of the most populous states, but not in order of population.

This comes at a time when prices on all goods and services have climbed 9%, and food alone has risen more than 10% over the past year, according to the most recent release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gasoline prices have risen 49% during that period, and the added financial pressure is inescapable for many Americans.

Who is hurt the most?

And as with many economic conditions, when it comes to gas prices, the impact is greatest among those who can withstand it the least.

Many Americans must drive to and from work each day. More workers than ever have the option of telecommuting, but this isn’t the case for workers in many industries. With few exceptions, retail and service work can’t typically be done from home. You can’t wait tables, landscape or clock in at a gas station if you don’t leave your house. An estimated 37% of jobs could be done from home, and those account for 46% of wages across the nation, underscoring that those with telework options are employed in higher-paying fields, according to a 2020 analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Rural drivers are also at a disadvantage. Not only do people in smaller towns have to drive farther to access doctors, grocery stores and just about everything else, but there also is likely no public transportation to serve as an alternative. Using the train or a bus may not be ideal to those in big cities who happen to have cars, but it’s an option when gas prices become too much to bear.

Finally, lower- and middle-earning households are likely to spend a greater share of their income on gasoline, according to spending data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While a high-income household can often find areas of their budget to trim back to account for higher fuel prices (if they even need to), the same can’t be said for households where nearly every expense is a “need” rather than a “want.”

Potentially overlooked (or underestimated) ways to save

There are many ways to save on gas, and though they may not drop the price per gallon to 2020 levels, they can make a significant difference. Using cash-back credit cards and gas apps, carpooling and driving less are default (and worthwhile) suggestions, but here are a few others you may not have thought of, or simply underestimated.

Join grocery gas discount programs

OK, one loyalty point for every dollar spent on groceries may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly, especially if you have a household of people to feed. At Kroger stores, for instance, you can redeem up to 1,000 fuel points for $1 off each gallon of gas. Even at the low end — redeeming 100 points for $0.10 in savings per gallon — a full tank could be a few dollars cheaper. These kinds of programs really pay off if you drive a pickup or large SUV with a big tank. Check your local grocery stores to see if they offer gas discount programs.

Call your auto insurance provider

There are many ways to save on car insurance — freeing up gas money — and the savings may be significant. Auto insurance companies have discounts for all kinds of things: being a safe driver, a good student or a homeowner, for instance. Call them to ensure you’re reaping those benefits, and to check if there are ways you can fine-tune your policy amounts to save on your monthly premiums.

Get auto insurance quotes

There’s a good chance you could save money by shopping around for a different insurance provider, too. A 2017 NerdWallet survey found that 43% of insured Americans hadn’t checked their current price or compared prices across insurers for at least a year. That analysis estimated potential savings at about $400 per year for doing so.

Insurance rates vary by provider; it’s a simple fact. And shopping around for the best rates should be something you do annually in order to ensure you’re not overpaying.


If you’re struggling to make ends meet and increased prices on gas and everything else are making it difficult to cover all of the costs, contact the United Way at or by calling 211. They can put you in touch with local resources that may be able to provide financial assistance, including gas vouchers.

Advice for Renters Priced Out of Homebuying

Today’s housing market can feel like a dream killer.

Rising mortgage rates, high home prices and a shortage of properties for sale deliver a one-two-three punch.

If you’ve been knocked out of one too many deals and need a timeout, here’s how to regroup and keep the homeownership dream alive.

Give yourself a break

Given the rise in home prices and interest rates, the monthly mortgage payment for a median-priced single-family home with a 10% down payment has jumped by about $800 since January, according to a June 2022 National Association of Realtors press release.

That’s huge.

It’s OK to hit pause if you’re frazzled to the point that you can’t think clearly or are simply priced out.

“If it doesn’t feel right to you … step away and give yourself some breathing room,” says Catalina Franco-Cicero, a certified financial planner with Tobias Financial Advisors in Plantation, Florida. “It’s OK to do that.”

But stepping back doesn’t mean giving up.

“One thing we tell people with any goal that you have is that there’s a big difference between ‘no’ and ‘not yet,’” says Nathaniel Moore, a certified financial planner and president of Agape Planning Partners in Fresno, California.

Strengthen your finances

View the break as an opportunity to get your finances in even better shape.

Budget like a homeowner

Use a mortgage calculator to estimate a monthly mortgage payment, including estimated property taxes and home insurance. Then add utilities plus 20% of the monthly mortgage for unexpected maintenance and repairs, Moore suggests. Subtract your rent payment from that amount and set aside the rest in a high-yield savings account.

“That way, if and when you can get in the home, you don’t have sticker shock or you’re not house-rich and cash-poor because you didn’t account for the other expenses,” Moore says.

He likens the transition to a relay race.

“You want to have a smooth baton handoff, from the ‘renter you’ to the ‘homeowner you.’ If you’re not ready to walk in that house and afford the ancillary costs of living there, that’s when the baton fumbles and drops,” he says. “You want to get to the place where the rental person is running at the same speed as the homeownership person so when the baton is handed off it’s a smooth transition.”

When you’re ready to buy, you can add that extra money you’ve socked away to your down payment, which will help you make stronger offers and may qualify you for better mortgage rates.

“Nobody can truly predict interest rates nor inflation, nor the appreciation rate of homes in a relatively short period of time,” Eric Lefkowitz, president and chief operating officer of Motto Mortgage Mint in San Diego, said via email. “But we can be certain that buyers should be saving for strong down payment options. This will ensure they can get the best available interest rate when the time comes.”

Pay down debt

Paying down credit cards and other debt will improve two measurements: your credit score and your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI. Both are key factors that lenders consider when deciding whether you qualify and at what rate.

A good DTI — the percentage of gross monthly income that goes toward debt — is generally under 36%. The lower the better.

Your credit score is based in part on credit utilization, the percentage of available credit used. Shrinking your debt will lower credit utilization and help your score. Meanwhile, keep making on-time payments to preserve good credit.

“It’s going to give you a better mortgage rate and more options,” says Deb Gillard, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Venture in Owatonna, Minnesota.

Avoid optional big expenses

Resist the temptation to vent your frustration in a spending splurge, whether it’s running up a credit card balance or buying a new car when the old one suffices.

“That’s the last thing you want to do when you’re taking this pause,” Gillard says.

Another enticement may be to move to a nicer apartment. But stay put if you can, advises real estate broker Peggy Pratt, who leads the Pratt Properties Team of Century 21 North East in the Boston area. Paying the security deposit and other moving expenses could cut into savings for a down payment.

Reevaluate your wants and needs

This is a good time to look at the big picture.

“People need to do some soul searching to say, ‘What am I looking for in a home?’” Moore says.

Given home prices and mortgage rates, you may need to adjust your filters. You may need to shop for homes in a different neighborhood or buy something smaller than originally imagined. If the aim is to buy a starter home, build equity and upgrade in a few years, then that flexibility may pay off.

“Homeownership is a step-by-step opportunity,” Lefkowitz said. “You are not committing to stay in a home forever.”

If you could work elsewhere, another option you might consider is relocating to a less-expensive housing market, Franco-Cicero says. That’s a big decision. Taking a pause can give you time to research the quality of life and cost of living in other locations and weigh whether you want to live somewhere else.

Keep in touch with your agent, lender

Besides fine-tuning finances and reevaluating goals, keep in touch with experts you trust who can watch the market and bring you back in when you’re ready, Lefkowitz said.

“This includes a strong Realtor and mortgage professional,” he said. “Together, that partnership can keep the buyers’ best interest top of mind and be ready to pounce on an excellent property when it becomes available.”

Let them know if you can make a bigger down payment, for instance. Keep your agent updated on when you might be ready to jump back into the market and the types of homes and areas you’re willing to consider.

Pratt says she counsels clients to maintain realistic expectations and not give up.

“Hang in there,” she says. “Something will come.”

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What if You Can’t ‘Out-Budget’ Inflation?

Inflation is a nightmare for the many Americans who already stretch their dollars to cover basic needs. What happens when those dollars lose value?

Their choice is probably not about whether to cut streaming services or opt for store-brand groceries. Instead, they may have to pick between buying enough food and paying rent.

The families hit hardest by inflation typically have little in savings and other resources. And that lack of access to wealth can be rooted in a history of inequality, says Phuong Luong, a Massachusetts-based certified financial planner and founder of Just Wealth, a financial education and consulting firm.

For example, say generations of your family have been underpaid or limited in where they can live, due in part to racist policies. Then inflation causes everything to become more expensive.

You may have to scrape together cash to support not just yourself, but also family or community members. Perhaps you have to spend money and time traveling across town to the grocery store or doctor’s office.

“Your proximity to people with resources and people with wealth is going to be different depending on where you live and who you are,” Luong says. “There’s a larger context than just expenses and budgeting.”

Whatever context describes your situation, here’s how to combat inflation if money is already tight.

Prioritize essentials

Aim to pay for expenses that enable you to live safely: housing (mortgage or rent), utilities and food. Also try to cover costs that help you work, such as transportation, cell phone and child care.

Next-level priorities are those that trigger major consequences if you don’t pay: taxes, child support and insurance.

For credit cards, aim to pay your minimum at least, because you may need that credit access.

Tap local resources

If you’re struggling to pay bills, find support. Luong suggests, which lists local programs designed to cut costs across many categories.

Calling 211 or visiting can also help you find assistance related to housing, health, food and emergency costs.

Pick up the phone

You may also save money by calling credit card and insurance companies, lenders, banks, cell phone providers and other businesses you pay.

With the pandemic affecting so many consumers, these companies “are a little more empathetic than they have been,” says Emlen Miles-Mattingly, co-founder of Onyx Advisor Network, a Sacramento, California-based support platform for underrepresented financial advisors.

They may pause or lower payments, for example, or forgive overdue bills. Or they could lower your interest rate.

But you have to ask. And often a patient phone call with customer service yields quicker, more effective results than an email or online form.

Connect with your community

To overcome financial struggles, “community is going to be major,” says Dasha Kennedy, Atlanta-based financial activist and founder of The Broke Black Girl Facebook community.

Leaning on — or supporting — your family members, friends and neighbors can take many forms. For example, Kennedy points out how temporarily living with others can lower housing expenses. Or you can pool resources by sharing a vehicle or splitting a large expense.

To connect with supportive locals you’ve yet to meet, look to libraries, religious organizations and recreation centers. Or use virtual platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor.

In these in-person and online spaces, you may find free or inexpensive goods and services. Maybe someone will give away secondhand clothes or walk your dog while you work.

Or seek guidance. Your neighbors may point you toward free, nearby health resources, for example, or describe what’s helped them stretch their money.

Profit from your skills

Of course, making more money helps, too. If you’re already working, Kennedy recommends first trying to increase earnings through your employer. Consider working overtime or negotiating raises and role changes, she says.

Or explore side work — with caution. Plenty of online gigs could waste your time, take your money or misuse your personal information.

“It’s high time for frauds and scams,” Kennedy says. Trust your gut, and read reviews. Also check the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau websites for tips to avoid scams.

The most effective way to make money? “Monetize skills you already have,” Kennedy says. These could include anything from cleaning and organizing to writing and designing.

Assuming you start without clients, she suggests tapping your community once again.

“You may not have the time to build trust and reputation, so you’re going to have to rely on personal relationships,” she says. Ask friends, neighbors and family members to promote and vouch for you.

Mind your mental health

Money struggles are exhausting. So regularly “connect with yourself,” Miles-Mattingly says. Identify what makes you feel better, whether it’s walking outside, calling a friend, meditating or reading.

If time is tight, make your activity quick, and consider Miles-Mattingly’s point: “People, when stressed, don’t have the best decision-making abilities.” And hard times mean hard decisions. It pays to feel centered before negotiating a lower bill or agreeing to a side job.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed during times of financial stress, Kennedy tries not to overthink the unpredictable future. Instead, she suggests “focusing on getting through the day.”

Laura McMullen writes for NerdWallet.

Are 0% Interest Student Loans Better Than $10K Cancellation?

Cancellation is the most popular proposal to address student loan debt, but it isn’t the only one out there. With the interest-free student loan payment pause in its third year, some wonder if 0% interest on student loans is a better answer.

“I think this COVID pause has really illustrated — hopefully for policymakers but definitely for consumers — that the interest is what’s really killing people,” says Betsy Mayotte, president and founder of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

She’s talked to many borrowers who say they wouldn’t turn down forgiveness but would much rather have a cut in the interest rate.

The Biden administration is expected to announce $10,000 in cancellation to federal student loan borrowers earning less than $150,000 for individuals and $300,000 for couples. This aligns with the president’s campaign promises but falls short of what some experts think is necessary.

Lodriguez Murray, United Negro College Fund senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, encourages “the administration to go bigger and bolder.”

“When there is a way you can reset the course of history for certain populations, you should,” Murray says.

Tomas Campos, CEO and co-founder of debt optimization software Spinwheel, thinks 0% student loan interest could be a realistic solution. Student loan debt “impacts half of American households. They may not be in debt themselves, but they see their loved ones struggling with it,” says Campos.

According to a recent NPR poll, the majority of the general public supports partial student loan relief, but that support decreases with higher amounts of cancellation.

Here’s how eliminating student loan interest could work based on two existing proposals aimed at borrowers with problematic long-term debt.

Two plans for 0% interest


Last summer, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, reintroduced the Leveraging Opportunities for Americans Now Act. This act, first introduced in May 2019, calls for the government to disburse all federal student loans at 0% interest and replaces interest charges with a one-time origination fee.

Under the LOAN Act, undergraduate student loans would carry a 20% origination fee, and PLUS loans would carry 35%. These fees would be added to the total principal amount and paid back over the life of the loan.

Borrowers would automatically be placed in an income-driven repayment plan but would have the option to select the standard 10-year repayment plan. Those who repay their loan early would be refunded some of the origination fee.

If a student borrows $27,000 in federal loans at the 2022-23 interest rate of 4.99%, their payment would be about $286 a month for 10 years, with $34,349 repaid in total. With a 20% origination fee and no interest, that borrower would have $270 monthly payments with a $32,400 total repayment.

Low-income borrowers who enter an income-driven repayment plan would benefit most. According to a NerdWallet analysis, a borrower with $27,000 in debt and a starting annual salary of $30,000 would pay nearly $42,000 by the time income-driven repayment forgiveness kicked in. With the Rubio proposal, that borrower may pay about $9,600 less.

Zero-Percent Student Loan Refinancing Act

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, introduced the Zero-Percent Student Loan Refinancing Act in February of this year. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, also introduced a version of the bill to the House.

The Zero-Percent Student Loan Refinancing Act would automatically refinance all loans under the federal Direct Loan program to 0% interest. It would also give borrowers with Federal Family Education Loans, Perkins loans and Public Health Service Act loans the option to refinance to 0% interest.

Borrowers with private student loan debt would be eligible for the 0% refinance, too, according to email statements from Meaghan McCabe, a senior communications advisor with Whitehouse’s office

This proposal was introduced to help student loan borrowers recover from pandemic-induced financial strain and mounting interest totals that have the potential to exceed the original principal loan balance. The proposal would allow borrowers to refinance at 0% through 2024.

Borrowers would be eligible to refinance anytime during the open window of the program, even if they are still in school, according to McCabe. Under this proposal, a student who refinanced immediately and had $27,000 in debt at 4.99% interest would save about $7,349 over a 10-year term.

What can you do now?

The existing proposals are a long way from coming to a vote in either house of Congress, and there isn’t even consensus on whether 0% is the ultimate answer to the student debt crisis.

Interest-free student loans “can be coupled with other actions, really, but it’s not enough to make a real difference,” says Murray.

Mayotte says a reduced interest rate, maybe 1%, across student loans may be a better solution, as borrowers may not take 0% debt seriously. She also believes student loans with reduced interest rates have a better chance of garnering bipartisan support in a divided Congress.

Meanwhile, federal student loans are scheduled to return to repayment in September, and that means interest charges will also resume.

Borrowers should plan for repayment. If you think you’ll struggle, contact your servicer to discuss your options, such as reduced payments or halting payments altogether through forbearance. No matter how you proceed, however, interest charges will continue adding up.

As for interest-free or reduced-interest student loans, Mayotte urges borrowers to make their voices heard. She says, “I think if more consumers start writing their members of Congress asking for that, we might get some more attention and more legs to it.”

Cecilia Clark writes for NerdWallet.

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Should You Use Buy Now, Pay Later Services for Travel?

Buy now, pay later services are an increasingly popular way to purchase products online. These services often target young shoppers through social networks and promote the ability to purchase products like clothing or makeup via a small down payment followed by installment payments to cover the difference.

But it’s not just physical stuff that you can click to buy and pay in full later. Travel providers have jumped on the trend by partnering with these services, which include Affirm and Uplift, to let you fund your vacation in small payments — sometimes even after you’ve finished the trip.

Affirm began partnering with Vacasa vacation rentals in February 2021 and then American Airlines in October 2021. Afterpay lets you use its service when you book through online travel agencies Klook and Agoda, and you can even order tickets to the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” United Airlines flights can be paid for later through Uplift.

Payment plans to cover vacations aren’t new. Charging your vacation to credit cards was an option before these services began, and many travel agencies have long offered payment plans. Buy now, pay later payment options are the shiny, technology-based version of payment programs like layaway or deferred interest.

Buy now, pay later” services can be handy in some circumstances, but there are drawbacks to taking on this kind of debt.

The problems with using buy now, pay later to book travel

They make travel seem cheaper than it really is: Breaking down one big payment into multiple, smaller payments can make a purchase seem more affordable than it is and perhaps is psychologically satisfying. But adding up all the payments can end up the same, or sometimes even more due to interest, than the full quoted cost.

For example, a two-bedroom Vacasa vacation rental for a three-night stay cost $1,399. But Affirm markets it as six monthly payments of $233.

You might scoff at lodging expenses for a three-day weekend that may be more than a month’s rent. But don’t be fooled when you see the $233 offer — you’re still paying the $1,399, just not all in one go.

It’s usually not a good way to build credit: Sezzle proudly proclaims that it has “zero impact on your credit.” Afterpay advertises that it doesn’t conduct credit checks.

“We don’t believe in preventing people from accessing Afterpay because they may have had an old debt from a long time ago. And we don’t believe that missing a payment with Afterpay should result in a bad credit history,” according to a company statement.

While that notion has its merits, it does mean that people who might already have a history of debt are getting access to loans that they might be unable to pay off — in turn digging them into deeper debt.

In fact, Afterpay doesn’t affect your credit scores, period, so even a pristine, on-time reputation won’t help your scores. Had you paid on time through a traditional credit card, that information would be reported to the three credit bureaus and likely help your credit.

You could end up owing more than you thought in interest: Some services charge fees. Affirm typically charges interest on longer loans, but won’t charge fees on shorter loans. In the previous Vacasa example, you won’t owe interest if the loan is paid off within six months. But if you opt to pay in 12 monthly installments of $116.67 over the course of a year, you’ll also owe Affirm nearly $120 in interest fees. That turns what could have been a nearly $1,400 cabin into a $1,520 cabin.

Most other types of loans charge interest too. In fact, the average interest rate for a co-branded credit card in 2020 was 25.7%, according to data in a 2021 consumer credit card market report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

There are other fees besides interest: Especially if you already struggle to pay your regular bills or track your expenses, some of these services can make it easy to fall behind on payments and incur high late fees.

Zip, which partners with Airbnb and encourages bookers to split any purchase into four installments over six weeks, charges a $1 convenience fee per installment (so you’d owe $4 to Zip on top of the money you owe Airbnb). If you miss a payment, Zip charges late fees ranging from $5 to $10.

Sezzle doesn’t charge outright late fees but will deactivate your account if you’re two days late. To get your account reactivated, you’ll pay a fee of up to $10. And, if you preemptively delay your payment due date, Sezzle charges a $5 rescheduling fee.

Like many other services, Sezzle makes these fees tough to know about ahead of time. Case-in-point: Sezzle’s fees aren’t clearly stated on its site, but rather buried within the fine print of its 12,000-word user agreement.

Credit cards can also entail fees, and credit card issuers charged consumers a combined $12 billion in late fees in 2020, according to the CFPB. But the Credit Card Act of 2009, intended to protect cardholders, heavily regulates such fees by limiting how high those fees can go. And in most cases, buy now, pay later loans aren’t subject to the same consumer protections that apply to credit cards.

When buy now, pay later services make sense

You might pay less in interest or fees versus other forms of debt: Many of these services allow you to pay off purchases down the road without paying compounding interest, which you’ll typically owe with other forms of debt you take on. Unless you’re taking advantage of a 0% APR offer on a credit card, that includes most credit card debt, too.

You have poor credit or are credit invisible, and it’s a necessary expense: Maybe you have poor credit. Perhaps you’re great with money — but are credit invisible, meaning your credit history isn’t long enough to have generated a credit file.  (This situation is common among young people and recent immigrants.) While most of these services won’t help build your credit, they can help if you need to make a purchase that you can’t pay in full now.

It’s a necessary expense: Maybe you have a sick relative and you need to jump on a plane to care for them. Perhaps your house needs emergency repairs and you’ll need to stay in a hotel, but your homeowners or renters insurance won’t cover the upfront cost. If your travel expense is necessary, then buy now, pay later services can serve people with few to no other options.

The bottom line

Buy now, pay later services can be a lifesaver when you’re in an emergency situation and you’ve exhausted other options. They can also serve to cushion your savings account if you’re booking a trip that you know you can afford, but want to hold cash as long as possible.

But in general, there are far too many gotchas in these services to make them worth recommending for most travel purchases.