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  #1  
Old 03-10-2004
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staceyneil is on a distinguished road
Bill-paying while cruising....

Any advice? I''m mostly concerned with monthly bills like American Express. How do other cruisers (abroad) handle this?

Stacey
www.sailnamaste.com
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Old 03-10-2004
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WHOOSH is on a distinguished road
Bill-paying while cruising....

Stacey, this is a fun topic as it’s quite a puzzle and the solutions can be a bit unique for each of us. It’s also a huge topic to cover well on a BB. Here are some things you might consider based on us being outside the U.S. for a majority of the last 4 years, on what is our third cruising life:
1. Establish at least one ‘does it all’ account with a mutual fund or brokerage house. We’ve used T Rowe Price for almost 20 years now, a very good firm. We do no active trading, but instead use their Asset Manager Account because we have access to and can do everything via the Web, have a VISA card directly tagged to our primary funds source, can write checks (e.g. to send back home), and it allows two-way electronic transfers (e.g. Uncle Sam’s IRS refund ‘in’, ongoing monthly charges like our Global AT&T phone card, mail handling service and monthly storage room charges going ‘out’). Another common service used by cruisers is Merrill-Lynch’s Cash Mgt. Acct. (CMA) – we have used this but find TRP much more suitable to our tastes as a business and we even have a personally assigned professional to sort out any problems for us. TRP charges no fees for any fund purchases/sales, and so all employees are salaried, not commission incented. And finally, they accept collect calls from AMA account holders all over the world; we’ve used this service many times. (Sorry to go on about one vendor; the important thing is to have one globally-accessed account that offers you every financial feature you will need but that costs you very little. We pay a $50 fee annually for all the above).
2. Arrange for all ‘remnant’ bills and ongoing bills to be auto-paid if possible from some U.S. source (credit union, brokerage account, etc. (You don’t say if you’ll be leaving real property behind, which adds add’l burdens re: bills and mail).
3. Where auto-payment isn’t possible (e.g. we carry a free Optima AmEx card because it gives us the best insurance coverage when renting a car), arrange for on-line electronic payment. We carry a back-up VISA card (in case of wallet/purse theft) with the same on-line payment option, altho’ both these companies readily accept collect calls.
4. I suggest you make a ‘Mail & Account Info’ Word file on which you capture the details of each account or ongoing financial relationship you’ll have while off cruising; I’ve referred to ours many times. E.g. most 800#s lose their utility once you leave the U.S. (there are some exceptions in some countries) so this list is where I place all the non-800 #s we’ll need for each vendor, bank, credit union, insurance company, etc. You would be surprised how hard it can sometimes be to get a non-800 # (our health insurance company and Verizon are too classic examples). Getting these is important prework before shoving off, as is email addresses.
5. We keep several business card folders (from Staples or Office Depot) at hand and add onto business cards we’ve collected any email or URL info that applies. This is a handy way to have available a variety of contact info; our biz card folders are 1) home vendors & services (Drs, Tax Ofc, storage facility etc.), 2) boat-related vendors (mfgrs, distributors, retailers) and 3) boater cards from other boaters.
6. Some folks fall back on family members/friends handling the mail. We’ve done this and also used two commercial firms during our 3 cruising ‘lives’; for us, using St. Brendan’s Isle has been the best solution, altho’ we only use their basic service.
7. We have found web access everywhere in the Caribbean and of course here in Europe; even broadband in the Azores and Bermuda were common. You can therefore rely on this as a normal ‘tool’, which can make some complicated matters very simple. E.g. imagine working with a U.S. Embassy somewhere to get all your tax forms, the instruction book, etc. and then picture the ease of receiving a Turbo Tax CD via airmail and doing/filing your taxes on-line.
8. Every country seems to have it’s own views on taxing (or not) inbound goods – don’t assume what you read in the cruising guides to apply universally. Benefiting by info from other cruisers re: getting things shipped in can be very helpful. E.g. we’ve found the combination of the Royal Mail, Customs, and most USPS airmail products to be deadly slow (and expensive) while we’ve been in London. DHL & Fedex is very costly everywhere we’ve used it. However, friends pointed out that USPS Global Priority is cheap, bypasses Customs and arrives in 7 days like clockwork. This has been a huge help when what’s being shipped will fit inside one of the GP envelopes…but of course this will change when we head to Scandinavia.
There’s much more, as I’m writing this on the fly before heading off to do laundry. Feel free to email me if you have questions about any of the above.

Jack
jack_patricia@yahoo.com
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Old 03-11-2004
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sadie14 is on a distinguished road
Bill-paying while cruising....

Everything Whoosh said - with the added advice to set it up now, before you go and work out the bugs and find the items you forgot.

We have been working for a year to get as paperless and automatic as possible. We have an online checking account with automatic bill payment, an online account with a brokerage firm, and a mail service (St. Brendand''s) and we''re still at the dock. We plan to leave in October.
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Old 03-11-2004
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staceyneil is on a distinguished road
Bill-paying while cruising....

Thanks Sadie and Whoosh....

I''m hoping to use only one financial institution (our credit union) if possible. We have no investments to speak of so basically it''s just a checking and (small)MM acount. I will speak to them about automatic bill paying for the credit cards.

We''re going to have my Mom send us our mail: she did a couple of yearlong cruises many years back, so she understands what''s entailed.

We do have a house: we''re renting it for just enough to cover it''s mortgage and upkeep. I just realized we probably have to pay tax on that rental income, which is likely to be fairly complicated, so I doubt I will be able to file myself on line. I am really worried about how much tax we''ll owe, because our cruising kitty is based on an extremely tight budget and I had not factored paying tax in at all!!! Not to mention paying the accountant for tax prep!!! Yikes!!!!

I''ll work it out in the next couple of months before we leave. Thanks

Stacey
www.sailnamaste.com
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Old 03-11-2004
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almostbroke is on a distinguished road
Bill-paying while cruising....

Hey Stacey- I would add only one thing to the above good advice. If you have a relative( or friend) that you can rely on, it would be a good idea to give that person Power of Attorney. That way there will be someone who can make transactions or sign things on your behalf if needed while you are away. Some businesses (esp credit card companies) only honor a POA for six months from it''s date of notarization. My sister is handling all my finances while we are away, and she has had no problem in taking care of business for me with a POA. Be sure to have many original copies made and notarized, as some of my mutual fund accounts would only honor an original copy. It is a good idea to get it all started before you leave and work out the bugs while you are still stateside.
Fair winds,
Jim
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Old 03-14-2004
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WHOOSH is on a distinguished road
Bill-paying while cruising....

Stacey, you are underestimating the capabillity of tax software these days. And you really won''t find another easily managed way to file if you really do leave the U.S. (assuming you don''t want to pay for a tax preparation service and endure the logistics - faxes, mail back & forth - to furnish them with what they need, then sign what you get back).

What''s your intended route? With the repeated comments about the tight budget, perhaps you should reflect on some seasonal work opportunities for one of you while out cruising. In some places, this is easier to arrange than you might think.

Jack
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