So many people make so many credit card spending mistakes this time of year
You can swipe away these holiday credit card problems.
As the holiday shopping season jumps into gear, a record number of consumers — 196 million — now have access to credit card or other revolving lines of credit, according to data released this week from Transunion. Combine that with the fact that credit card debt hit a record high this year at more than $1 trillion, and the fact that spending tends to rise in December — and you can see a credit card debt problem in the making for millions of Americans.
The goods news: There are plenty of hacks — other than the standard advice of simply making a holiday budget and spending less — to help you manage (and maximize) your credit card spending and potential debt wisely. Here’s how:
Beware of store cards. “The worst retail trap to avoid this holiday season is to sign up for a store credit card,” says Charles Tran, founder of personal finance site CreditDonkey. The reason: ”In general, store credit cards tend to come with higher interest rates and fewer benefits than regular non-store credit cards,” explains Kimberly Palmer, credit card expert for Nerdwallet.com. Beware of some of these cards.
Of course, some of these cards are OK — especially if they have a good sign-up bonus and rewards and you know you will pay your bill on time — but look out for things like high interest rates (some have rates of 25% of higher) and stingy bonuses and discounts (some don’t have sign-up bonuses at all and many are worth less than $25). “Many store credit cards offer a one-time discount, such as 10% off, but that is just a one time thing. Not only will your credit score take a temporary hit from applying for a new card, but you will also be on the hook for any future payments on the card,” says Palmer.
Another big problem area: deferred interest. “Many retailers’ zero-percent interest introductory offers are actually deferred interest offers. That means that if you don’t pay your balance in full during the introductory period, you could get stuck paying interest on the entire original purchase amount dating all the way back to the purchase date,” explains Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst.
Stop falling for “limited time offers.” Consumers are about 1½ times more likely to open a store-branded credit card in the holiday season compared to any other month of the year, data from Transunion shows. And “much of this increase is due to the credit offers extended by retailers and their lending partners in anticipation of the shopping season,” explains Ezra Becker, the head of TransUnion research.
But consumers must stop falling for those “limited time” offers, experts say. “Don’t sign up for a credit card deal just because there’s a promotion,” advises Tran. “It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it. Retailers and credit card companies will try to take advantage of your fear of missing out with “limited time offers”.
Don’t miss out on great card card rewards — if you’re a responsible consumer. If you always pay your balance in full and on time, the holidays can be a great time to opt for a high sign-up bonus (some are worth $100 or more) or great rewards. “Many cash-back credit cards offer $150 back when you spend $500 on a new card. That extra $150 can be a great boost to your holiday budget,” says Schulz.
Plus, “don’t forget bonus malls. Some cards offer online shopping portals for cardholders that come with extra discounts, so if you’re shopping online, be sure to check out what your card offers. With some cards, such as American Express cards, you can opt into the available ‘offers’ and then use your card to shop and score additional discounts when you checkout,” explains Palmer.
Warning: If you run a balance, rewards and other perks can quickly get eaten up by what you pay in interest, experts say. And, recommends Kimberly Foss, president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management, don’t buy stuff with more than one or two credit cards “max.”
Remember these little-known credit card perks. Many cards have little-used perks that can be particularly beneficial during the holidays, experts say. One example: Price protection. “Price protection means you might not need to fight crowds for the lowest prices: As the price drops, your credit card issuer will reimburse you the difference,” says Palmer. With the Citi Price Rewind card, you buy an item on your card and Citi does a 60-day search for a lower price and then may refund you the difference. Discover and some Mastercards also offer price protection with varying terms and time limits.
What’s more, “credit cards often have their own short-term purchase protection and extend manufacturer warranties for many purchases,” says Palmer. And another perk is chargebacks, she says: “Consumers can contest purchases that they feel are unfair with chargebacks. This is a broad and powerful benefit, allowing consumers to refuse payment for undelivered or damaged goods, or even for items that don’t match the seller’s description.”
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