IRS stimulus checks began hitting bank accounts this week, and Americans will make different choices about how to use the money aimed at relief amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to their needs. One possibility: Book a vacation package, when such activity can resume.
Scott Eherts and eight of his friends received stimulus checks this week and almost immediately purchased flights to Singapore and Bali for September — hoping to be in town for the Singapore Grand Prix on Sept. 20.
Before thinking about traveling, though, financial advisers caution: Make sure you don’t have more pressing priorities, such as buying food, paying rent or paying bills.
“It’s important to address your immediate expenses,” said Katie Warshol, a financial adviser with Edward Jones in St. Louis.
And that’s just one thing to keep top of mind. Here’s a look at what travelers need to know before they spend IRS stimulus checks on travel.
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‘The future is uncertain’
Warshol said it’s a good idea to build up an emergency fund if you don’t already have one, or add to it if you do. She suggests three to six months of cash.
“You might have a job now,” she said, though she noted “the future is uncertain.”
After that, she said, you can consider taking that vacation.
“If you feel financially stable and your immediate needs are taken care of, let’s talk about what other goals you might have,” Warshol said.
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Check airline policies
So what would the tax relief check buy you? Individuals making up to $75,000 are set to receive $1,200. Couples who make up to $150,000 get $2,400.
The 23-year-old Eherts from Stamford, Connecticut, received the full $1,200 government stipend. He’s planning to use a combination of points and the whole check for the trip since one of his friends lives in Singapore and he’s been meaning to visit.
Eherts paid $682 for a round trip on United Airlines from the U.S. to Singapore and $68 round-trip from Singapore to Bali; he estimates that’s about half of what it is normally and told USA TODAY he “couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”
What if the trip can’t go on as planned? “If we have to postpone, we’d certainly be bummed, but not the end of the world,” Eherts said.
Airlines have relaxed their cancellation and change fees in an effort to coax travelers back since their business is so far down. And the IRS stimulus checks can go a long way with the deals airlines are offering.
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Tripadvisor maintains a page with information on airline change and cancellation policies, as well as an air travel forum where travelers can exchange information.
Still, Elizabeth Monahan, a spokeswoman for Tripadvisor, recommends checking directly with the airlines to see what restrictions apply.
“Policies vary by carrier, so it’s always best to visit your airline’s COVID-19 resource pages directly for the most up-to-date information and guidance,” she said.
Should you leave the U.S.?
Monahan also recommends checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel FAQ page, which is updated regularly. Though the CDC recommends against nonessential travel right now, or any travel abroad, it will advise when it is safe to travel again. The State Department issues travel advisories for specific foreign countries.
Singapore, for example, had 5,050 coronavirus cases as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins data.
John McDonnell can’t wait to travel again, even if it has to be domestically for now.
“The first thing I’m doing is jumping on a plane to D.C. to soak up all the food, culture museums, zoo, shopping and architecture I can,” the 41-year-old from Wilmington, North Carolina, told USA TODAY. He received his $1,200 stimulus check Tuesday on and plans to take a direct flight from Wilmington for the trip. He anticipates spending about $2,000 for his trip over four days.
“Travel is my favorite thing to do in the world – feeds my soul,” he said.
He’s had to cancel trips to London and Cleveland, Ohio, as a result of the coronavirus and is planning to book a trip to Europe once it’s safe to go back.
Stay up-to-date on travel rules by state, event cancellations
If you do opt to travel domestically, make sure you know what you’re getting into as some states are requiring travelers to self-quarantine. Also bear in mind events you wanted to attend, even well into the future, may no longer be happening or are postponed.
Michael McGuckin, a retired educator (and self-described “professional grandfather”) planned on using his stimulus check to help with hotel expenses for a mid-July family trip to San Diego ahead of Comic-Con, which was canceled on Friday.
The Flanagan, Illinois, resident had three hotel rooms reserved at a Hilton property for a week-long trip. His 8-year-old granddaughter was excited about visiting the San Diego Zoo, Sea World and the beach.
Now that the event is canceled, the trip is likely a no-go. They’re planning to save the money now and use it for future travel.
Consider upgraded trip insurance
Another important consideration as travel resumes in the wake of coronavirus: Standard travel insurance policies do not cover you if you ultimately decide not to travel because of the pandemic. A cancel-for-any-reason policy will cost more but gives you more protection.
The U.S. Travel Insurance Association recommends its member companies, which adhere to the group’s standards. You can also compare companies to find out which one offers a policy that best fits your needs.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: IRS stimulus check slated for travel? What to know amid coraonvirus