Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shopping Tips for the 25 Days of Christmas: Tip #22

This holiday season many of us are using far less credit, in some cases because we simply do not have as much credit extended to us, in other cases because we are using cash trying to eliminate debt. Credit card companies have lowered credit limits on many consumers, even those who have faithfully paid their bills on time over years! So, for some consumers they have far less "credit buying power" this holiday season. However, there are ways to protect and maximize that buying power if you so choose!

I have touched upon credit and credit cards in a few other tips, but this one is all about using credit safely this holiday season!


Use credit and/or debit cards safely this holiday season!

By "safely", I mean the following:

Carry as few cards as possible. If you wallet or purse is lost or stolen, you will have far less risk and far fewer cards to follow up on to close or cancel. I have a dear friend who worked so hard to pay down credit and yet for some reason she still carried those cards with her. Her purse was stolen, and she had a serious mess on her hands, months of battling with credit card companies and following up on fixing that damage. Just don't carry the cards with you, not only does it reduce the temptation to spend more, it keeps you safer.

Carry credit cards as closely to your body as possible. While shopping the other day, I noticed several customers who had left their purses in the shopping cart while they were looking elsewhere. Don't set yourself up, when an economy weakens, the criminal element arises.

Ensure that you keep your eye on your credit card at all times. Do not let an associate wander off with it, make sure that they process the credit card transaction immediately and right in front of you. I was recently shopping and an associate asked to take the item I was interested in and my credit card to give to another cashier. I politely told her that I would do that myself, and thanked her for her help. As a retail manager I was involved in countless internal investigations in which associates were able to get (and immediately USE) credit card numbers that they had gotten in seconds (often times they jot down the number, or they make a "carbon" copy by putting a piece of paper over it and rubbing with a pencil).

Be very careful with applying for the those "immediate" store credit cards. I myself am very leery of this, and in all of my years of retail management, I have never once done this myself. I know from an insider perspective how "sloppy" this process is, and would never expose my personal information in that manner. The applications often sit at registers, exposed to many associates (and even other customers) and I have been involved in way too many internal investigations linked to instant credit applications and identity fraud. Even if the retailer can offer you a completely paperless manner, in which you enter all personal information into a keypad or telephone, I would still not do it. While the immediate discount is very attractive, weigh it against the risks, the reason they are offering to extend credit to you (to get you to buy MORE!) and the interest rate you will pay if you do not pay that balance off immediately.

Set up online account management with your credit cards. During this time of the year, it is a great idea to log on daily and review your charges. If you see anything suspicious, you can react immediately and get resolution much more quickly.

I hope that these few credit safety tips help you to save money and your credit this holiday season!

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