Tis the season – the holiday shopping season specifically. The National Retail Federation defines that as the period that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
The federation projects this year consumers will spend six to eight percent more than in 2021 – that’s between $942.6 billion and $960.4 billion. Additionally, the NRF says families will spend approximately $998 on gifts this year.
In a report released recently by MoneyGeek found that last year 41 percent of the individuals surveyed put 90 percent of the dollars spent on their credit cards. The report also showed many of them are still carrying that debt.
As a result of inflation and the higher prices that comes with it expert’s project that the use of credit cards during this shopping season will match if not exceed last year’s numbers.
There are ways to manage your holiday spending:
Make the most of deals. Start with a list of items and use sale flyers and promotions to determine which store has the best price. Set a budget and stick with it before you start your shopping.
Know the return policy and warranty information. Pass along any information about returns, exchanges, repairs, and warranties to the person who will use the item. Gift receipts are an easy way for recipients to return or exchange a gift if it’s not just right, but make sure the item is able to be returned before purchasing.
Read the fine print. Some retailers may offer an additional percentage off the purchase but could exclude certain deals or items such as “door busters.” Watch for companies boasting a high percentage off; the item may be “75% off,” but the original price could be inflated. Carefully check the price tags, terms, and conditions. Research online to see if competitors have the item at a better price.
Sign-up for email alerts. Many stores release their best deals and exclusive coupons to people who have subscribed to their emails. Sign up during the holiday season, and then unsubscribe afterward if needed.
Do your research. Read product reviews on extremely discounted items. It could be a cheaper model or brand advertised, and not what was expected. Check BBB.org for Business Profiles of the stores and read what other customers’ have experienced
Business Insider says using credit cards can be beneficial provided they’re used responsibly. They recommend, “Pay off your balance in full each month and only spend as much as you can afford to pay off. Also be honest with yourself If you don't think you're in a place to use a credit card responsibly, you shouldn't open an account.”
A word of warning. If you find yourself with credit card debt that is unmanageable, be very cautious when seeking help.
There are businesses that promise debt relief – for a fee – and do nothing. They’ll claim to be able to re-structure your debt or clear it up completely.
In a consumer alert the Federal Trade Commission says, “When you sign up for the program you will pay a fee, usually in the thousands, plus monthly fees for credit monitoring services.”
According to the FTC once you’ve signed on the dotted line you probably find it difficult to reach anyone. In the event you do talk with someone often all you will get is a form letter stating they’re disputing the debt – even when they know it’s legit.
Additionally, the agency says, “The companies would tell you to stop making payments and stop communicating with your credit card companies. If you followed these instructions, you’d see increased fees, added interest, lower credit scores, and, sometimes, lawsuits from creditors.”
The best thing to do is to avoid these companies but if you need help follow these recommendations:
Don’t pay upfront. It’s illegal for a debt relief company to charge you a fee before they do anything to relieve your debt.
Talk with your credit card company. Call the customer service number on the back of your credit card. Ask for a payment plan that you’ll be able to afford.
Consider a reputable credit counselor. They can help you develop a payment plan that works for you. Visit BBB.org to find a counselor you can trust and look for the Sign of a Better Business.
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Business Bureau, which serves Winnebago, Boone and Stephenson counties among others in northern Illinois.
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Be careful when using your credit card this holiday shopping season