Experts, Fall/Winter 2012
The Big Lender
Need help paying for your big day? Wedding Payment Plan’s Scott Almeida opens his wallet to those who say “I do.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of planning a wedding. There are flowers to fuss over, a band to book, and menus to choose (chicken cordon bleu or butter-poached lobster?). Of course, all of that adds up fast, and soon enough your big-day expenses are looking more like a down payment on a house. Now what?
Max out the credit cards? Borrow from family? Tap into the 401(k)? All options, of course, but none of them ideal. Your wedding is supposed to be the best day of your life, but it won’t be if you have to pay for it for the rest of your life. That’s where CPA Scott Almeida comes in. His financial services company, Wedding Payment Plan, will loan couples up to $15,000 — with low fixed rates and flexible repayment options — to put toward the event of their dreams. “We offer financial flexibility that wasn’t available before,” Almeida says.
How did you come up with the idea for your company?
I thought it would be neat if there were a loan product to defray the cost of paying for a wedding over the long term. When my wife and I got married, we got a lot of [financial] help from family, plus we used some of our own cash. But it would have been nice to keep some of that money — maybe to use for a down payment on a house. So I created a business plan when I was getting my MBA, and I launched it in 2007. I had two daughters — now I have three — so I could see the benefits from the perspective of a couple getting married and as a parent.
How does the process work?
We partner with specific venues [among them, Chatham Bars Inn, Seaport Hotel, and Westin Copley Place] that offer the plan to couples when they come in for a tour. If they’re interested, they fill out our application, and if they’re approved, Wedding Payment Plan pays the amount they borrowed directly to the venue. The bride and groom pay us back over the next 24 to 60 months.
Why not simply charge it to a credit card?
That’s what couples have been doing for years, but this revolving debt will cost you as it lingers on and on, unpaid for months or years. Also, count on extra fees and financial penalties for being over your spending limit, making late payments, or not meeting the minimum-payment criteria.
Don’t venues usually have their own financing plans?
No, most venues want to be paid 100 percent up front. If you can’t afford it, they simply suggest you push back the wedding date. It’s relatively inhospitable, given that it’s the hospitality industry.
Can you use Wedding Payment Plan for other vendors, like the band or the florist?
Right now we’re focused on venues and caterers. Those tend to require the largest chunk of money, and this gives couples the most help in the most simplified way.
Do you have a typical client?
That’s one of the things I am most shocked about: the variety of situations I encounter. I asked one of my first clients, “What’s the date of your wedding?” He said, “I don’t know. If we get this loan, we’ll get married a lot sooner.” Both he and his fiancée had elderly grandparents and didn’t want to wait too long. One groom was being deployed overseas, and our loan gave him the flexibility to get married before he left. I never anticipated those kinds of reasons. Other couples had large families on both sides, and the loan allowed them to invite everyone — and not have the wedding turn into an acrimonious debate. And then there have been some who want to buy their first house after the wedding, so they need to have cash available.
Do you get approached by people who want to spend beyond their means?
All the time. We lend only to qualified applicants who have the means to pay back the loan, and who intend to pay it back.
So when is borrowing money not ?a good idea?
Think of it this way: If someone has a job that pays them $30,000 a year, and they want to buy the most expensive house on the street, it’s a bad idea. Borrowing beyond your means is never smart, whether it’s for a wedding, a house, or a car.
Then why should anyone consider taking out a loan (or going into debt) for their wedding? So many financial advisers say not to.
You can bury your head in the sand and simply say, “Don’t take a loan.” But the reality is that people make bad financial decisions by putting expenses on their credit cards and depleting their entire cash savings. I’m not willing to ignore that issue — I’m going to deal with it in a responsible way. We don’t suggest that people borrow more than they can afford. We don’t want them to default. This method is not for everybody: It’s for people who are comfortable with credit, who need or want that financial flexibility. To say, “Don’t do it” or “Scale back your wedding” is naive.
What happens if (gulp) the wedding gets called off?
It doesn’t happen to us very often because the couples working with us don’t have money issues, which tends to be a reason weddings get postponed. But if it does, our refund policy mirrors that of the venue.
Scott Almeida shares his strategies for a financially savvy celebration.
Exhausting your savings is one of the worst moves an engaged couple can make. Why begin a marriage under financial stress? Save some cash for a rainy day.
Don’t Count Your Chickens…
Don’t plan on using guests’ generous checks to pay the tab. If you get a bunch of fondue pots and platters instead of checks, you’re going to have a tough time enjoying your celebration.
Avoid a Family Feud
It’s a bad idea to borrow money from relatives other than your parents. You don’t want to enter your new family compromised.