I've got tons of friends who are making their way to the States---all with empty luggage. I kid you not. They are carrying two large suitcases: one is half-filled with a change of clothes and the other suitcase is entirely empty. Why? For shopping purposes. My relatives in Switzerland used to do this for years whenever they came to visit.
Again, why is this? Because the dollar is again rather weak and people are looking at that as the prime excuse to get over here and bring back goods.
For one, Londoners are finding that flights to the United States are the lowest in the past 30 years. Remember when Freddie Laker used to bring everybody over here for as little as $220? Although Laker's reknown Skytrain is no more, you can still fly round trip between New York and London for less than $400. In fact, I recently went over and back on Virgin Atlantic (where the drinks are free) for $369. Unfortunately, there is nothing to buy in London that you can't get in New York for half the price.
So, my friends are heading here with their shopping lists in hand. Many are also looking at how to pay for the items bought, which becomes a plan in itself to decide whether to use cash or credit cards. As a rule of thumb that doesn't even warrant the retention of a financial planner, when traveling abroad, it is usually best to use a credit card for three primary reasons: 1) you aren't saddled with carrying lots of paper cash, 2) if there is a problem with the item, you can stop payment by notifying the credit card company, and 3) you get the benefit of not only the float but on some currency conversion.
However, when using a credit card, keep one important fact in mind: The interest payable in debts accrued on let's say two specific cards with identical APRs can differ rather dramatically simply because the companies themselves have various methods of calculating interest.
Absent a high mathematics degree from my college in Oxford, you can't really compare one card with another. For example, if I were a Londoner and spent a few hundred pounds on some American clothes with a card having an APR of 13.9 percent, I might be charged less interest than if I used the same purchase on another card with an APR of 11.9 percent. Why is this? Because there is no standardization, at least in England, in how interest is calculated and applied on all credit cards.
Card companies employ many different ways to calculate interest charges, with each method impacting on the cost of credit. For instance, one might charge interest from the date a transaction is made, while another might wait until the payment is debited on the account. Such disparities can result in a credit card with an APR of 22.7 percent being cheaper than one that displays an interest rate of 11.9 percent.
Take this illustration. A sum of $4,653 was borrowed on two cards, and the debt repaid identically. The cost of repaying the first, with an APR of 14.9 percent, was $7,520, while the cost of repaying the second was $5,821. Yet the second card’s APR was 16.4 percent, 1.5 percentage points higher than the first. This works out to $114.67 charged for every $186.16 borrowed on the first loan, eclipsing doorstep lending rates, which are typically $74.46 per $186.16.
So, what's the answer that I give to my British friends? Look for a credit card that charges nothing for six months. For instance, Nationwide has no charge for foreign usage for half a year.
And, come on over!
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