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6 wedding expenses you should always charge on credit

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Wedding-related mishaps can turn any mild-mannered bride into a bridezilla, but they happen all the time, no matter how prepared you thought you were for the big day.

The florist may deliver your bouquet to the wrong address. Or the reception venue goes out of business just days before your wedding. Or maybe the caterer's appendix bursts and she's laid up in the hospital. 

Whatever the disaster, you may be able to prevent an ill-timed snafu from turning into financial regret if you use a credit card, rather than cash or checks, to pay for certain expenses.

6 wedding expenses you should put on plastic

"I paid for my 2005 wedding with a credit card and I am glad I did," says one-time bride Alexandra Chauran of Issaquah, Wash. When the beer keg she rented jammed at her reception, Chauran asked the vendor for her money back. No luck. "The company that rented it to me refused to refund my money," she says. "So I just disputed the charge with my credit card company and got all my money back that way." 

As Chauran found, paying for goods and services with a credit card, rather than cash, gives you extra ammunition to fight back against vendors -- and potentially recover your losses -- in the event that something goes wrong.

The federal Fair Credit Billing Act gives you the right to dispute billing errors, including those for goods and services you didn't accept or that weren't delivered as agreed, as long as you dispute it within 60 days after the first bill containing the disputed charge was received. 

In addition to the limited protections provided under the law, if you are unsatisfied with the quality of the goods or service, and aren't able to get satisfaction from the merchant, most credit card issuers will investigate, and may step in on your behalf and charge a purchase back to the vendor.

There are limits to the charge-it wedding strategy, however. For one, make sure you don't charge more than your wedding budget allows, says Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "If you do charge your wedding expenses, commit to paying them off in no more than three months," says Cunningham. "Starting a marriage with one foot in a financial hole is not a honeymoon."  

Tips to avoid post-wedding debt

Before you whip out your credit card to pay for the deposits for your first-choice wedding vendors, it's wise to add up the total cost and get serious about your budget.

"It's easy to charge all these things, and if you're not keeping track of expenses, they can add up very quickly," says wedding planner Gail Johnson. If your wedding expenses exceed the amount you've saved, "scale back the wedding," she says.

To help you rethink some of your expenses -- and get some inspiration for a chic event that doesn't blow your budget -- here some budget-friendly wedding blogs that are packed with smart advice:

So assuming you're borrowing responsibly, here are six wedding-related expenses experts recommend you charge with a credit card -- just in case. 

1. Deposits
Unless you're planning a quickie elopement or a simple backyard affair, you can expect to spend a lot on deposits, often months in advance of your wedding.

Most vendors require a deposit upfront in order to reserve their services on your wedding date. However, a lot can happen in between the time you sign up with a vendor and your wedding day.

The wedding venue you scoped out months before your wedding may file for bankruptcy, leaving you without a place to get married. Or the makeup artist you hired may be missing in action just hours before you're supposed to walk down the aisle. 

That's why it's usually a good idea to charge your deposit, rather than pay for it in cash, says Gail Johnson, a wedding planner based in Decatur, Ga. That way, you can file a dispute with your credit card company and potentially get your money back. The card issuer is not obliged to repay you on behalf of a bankrupt merchant, since bailing you out would leave the issuer holding the bag, not you. But it might.

2. Wedding planner fees
Many wedding planners will charge a hefty retainer fee upfront that, like a deposit, guarantees that the planner will be available for your wedding.

Unlike some deposits, however, "retainers are not refundable," says Johnson, which can make choosing the wrong wedding planner an especially costly mistake.

Most planners will charge extra fees for services well in advance of the wedding. That can add up to thousands of dollars in lost fees if your wedding planner fails to provide the services he or she promised. To minimize the costs of picking a bad planner, it's a good idea to charge any additional fees with your credit card. Check the agreement carefully -- before you pay that nonrefundable retainer -- to make sure you're not required to pay for some services in cash.

3. Services you expect to receive on the day of your wedding
Problems with wedding-day vendors, including photographers, florists and DJs, are the top cause of claims filed by couples under their wedding insurance policies, according to an analysis of claims released in March 2013 by the insurance company Travelers.

If you're not willing to shell out for wedding insurance -- a type of policy that covers unforeseen disasters, such as bad weather, shady vendors and sometimes even cold feet -- it's a good idea to pay for those services with a card, especially if you're expected to pay in full before your wedding day.

Paying vendors by plastic could also relieve some stress on the day of the wedding if the vendor asks for more money than you anticipated, says Chauran. "We rented out a whole ski lodge for our wedding and about halfway through the reception, the lodge people said, 'We'll have to charge you more money.'" Chauran told them to put it on her tab and went back to her reception.  

4. The dress
Your wedding attire will likely be one of the heftiest purchases you make. In 2012, brides spent an average of $1,211 on their wedding dresses, according to a March 2013 study by Brides magazine and TheKnot.com.

Wedding dresses are often custom-ordered and may take months to arrive from the manufacturer. In the meantime, the shop you ordered your dress from could fail to make the necessary alterations in time for your wedding when the dress does arrive.

We rented out a whole ski lodge for our wedding and about halfway through the reception, the lodge people said, 'We'll have to charge you more money.'

-- Alexandra Chauran
Issaquah, Wash.

Wedding planner Gail Johnson says there's also another reason why many of her brides decide to charge their wedding dresses. They're confident they'll be able to sell them after the wedding. "There are a lot of really good consignment shops," says Johnson. So brides who pay more for their dresses than they have in cash may be able to recoup some of that money shortly after the wedding to pay down their credit card purchase.

5. Anything you buy online
The online wedding industry is big business, according The Wedding Report, a market research company. In 2011, for example, couples spent a whopping $8.6 billion on online wedding supplies.

Whether it's a cute accessory you found on Etsy or a box of white paper fans you bought on discount from a vendor on Amazon, make sure you pay for those purchases with a credit card. That way, you're guaranteed the strongest possible consumer protections in case the vendor turns out to be a fraud, or the items arrive damaged -- or never arrive at all.

Virtually all credit and debit cards branded with a Visa or MasterCard logo offer zero liability fraud protection. Some credit cards also come with additional price protection services. So if you splurge on an item, then find an identical one for a lower price, your credit card may refund you the difference.

6. Travel expenses for you and your guests
If you're renting a limo or traveling out of town for your wedding, go ahead and charge those purchases to your card as well.

Some credit cards offer emergency travel insurance that covers you in case you are injured or become ill on the way to the event.

Many credit cards also offer roadside assistance and rental car insurance, which could help save you from bigger financial headaches if you crash your limousine rental on the way to the reception or wind up stuck on the side of the road.

As an added perk, charging such big expenses could help you quickly rack up rewards points that you can spend on other things.  

That's what one-time father-of-the-bride Richard Hayman of Washington, D.C., did when he was faced with a fat bill. "I never carry a balance on any cards, so why not get the points?" says Hayman, who used an American Express card to pay for hotel rooms and more for his daughter's wedding. "I was going to spend it anyway."

See related: Q&A with author Meg Keene, author of ,Disputing a credit card bill with a merchant, How to win a credit card charge-back dispute

Published: April 8, 2013


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