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Your $3,428.43 Tan Lines

Does your credit card statement hold a place of prominence in your photo album? If you financed your summer vacation with plastic, move over the snapshots and make room for your bill. It may be the most lasting memory of your trip.

Credit cards financed almost 40% of summer vacations in 2003, according to "Americans, Summer Vacation, and Debt," a national study by AmeriDebt and Opinion Research. What's troubling about that stat is that more than half of the vacationers who put their trip on plastic did not pay it off right away. As a result, they could more than double what they paid for that R&R.

With vacationers spending an average of $1,500 on their trip, that's a lot of Mai Tais and inner tube rentals. Putting just $20 a month toward that balance at an interest rate of 14%, those tan lines end up costing $3,428.43 over the next 14 years. Your card will be paid off just in time for you to put that skin-resurfacing laser treatment on plastic!

If you've already gone on your cruise/camping trip/Civil War re-enactment outing, total your expenses, divide them by 12, and start stashing away that amount to cover next year's summer blowout. If you've already financed your travels with Visa and can't pay it off, negotiate for the lowest rate possible, or transfer the balance to a low-interest card (check out the current rates on The Motley Fool credit card) and pay it off pronto.

And if you're still planning your warm-weather jaunt, keep an eye on the biggest vacation expenses -- hotel accommodations, airfare (folks on the Cheap Air Fares discussion board are sharing bargain-hunting tips), and Disney doodads.

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