4 Mistakes People Make With Their Credit During the Winter

Here are some common credit mistakes people make during the winter.

No matter what seasonal holidays your family celebrates, we’re definitely in the festive season right now — it tends to start with Halloween and ends on January 1.

Over the last month or so, we’ve filled our pantries for Thanksgiving, hit the stores for Black Friday, and stocked up on gifts and food for Christmas or other family celebrations. (Not to mention all the pageants, concerts, get-togethers and parties that come with the season.)

During this time of year, many people get focused on gift giving and accidentally make these four credit mistakes, As we head into the home stretch, here are some not-so-smart spending behaviors to flag.

1. Overspending

‘Tis the season for giving, but some people give so much that they hurt themselves financially by spending more on their credit cards than they can pay back. That $25 gift for a friend that you thought you were getting a good deal on can suddenly cost $40 (or more!) once interest and fees are added onto an unpaid credit card. So be sure in these last few shopping days to stick to your budget. It’s okay to put things on your credit card … as long as you can pay off your credit card right away. (You can see how your holiday shopping has affected your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

2. Not Watching for Fraud

There’s a lot of shopping this time of year – it starts with Halloween candy and costumes for the kids and ends with champagne for a New Years Eve celebration (and maybe a gym membership to go along with your 2017 resolution). Along the way, you’ve probably had your credit card in hand fairly often – shopping for a turkey for Thanksgiving or angling for a great deal on Black Friday or Boxing Day. With all that extra credit card use, it’s important to stay vigilant and monitor your credit card statements carefully for fraudulent charges. Also, be sure to report them to your issuer immediately to have the charges reversed and your card replaced.

3. Lending a Credit Card

If your spouse is running out to pick up some last-minute fixings for the annual family get-together, or maybe some stocking stuffers for the kids, it might be tempting to hand off your credit card to them if they don’t have their own. However, this common mistake can prove costly for so many people every year, because while your family member might be very trustworthy, a simple mistake of leaving behind a credit card they’re not used to carrying could lead to fraud. (Something else that’s important to note: Lending your credit card to someone else, though it isn’t illegal, could put you in violation of your card agreement and make it harder to reverse the charges made while the plastic was out of your hands. You can learn more about how this works here.)

4. Putting Your Credit Review on Hold

I always recommend reviewing your credit report at least twice a year — or even quarterly. But this season can be so busy that people will often put their good habits and responsibilities on hold so they can focus on the turkey, decorations, costumes and shopping that needs to be done. However, skipping a credit report check just once a year (especially during the holidays) can set you back dramatically and make it that much harder to check and clean up your report in the spring. (Remember, you can pull your credit reports for free each year at AnnualCreditReport.com.)

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How to Have a ‘Financial Talk’ With Your Spouse Over the Holidays

Here are three tips for how to talk to your spouse about money problems over the holidays.

Approximately 31% of all couples have arguments over their finances at least once a month, according to an Ameriprise study. While this may be true, the real issue at hand is that you may not be having a financial conversation with your partner, especially during the holiday season. This could cause unwanted stress, and lack of communication could potentially damage your relationship in the future.

Here are some steps to get you started and help you avoid financial conflict in the new year.

1. Initiate the Conversation With Confidence

You might want to sit down with your spouse or partner over coffee to review your holiday spending plans to avoid a “debt hangover” after the holidays. Talking about finances can be difficult, so it is important to speak in a relaxed environment. Review one another’s numbers, accounting for how much each of you intends to spend this year and on whom. You may want to take a look at receipts from last year as a point of reference and go from there. You might even want to start the conversation by addressing your partner’s strengths with money and how much you appreciate all that they do for you financially (i.e.: paying the bills every month or helping out around the house).

2. Discuss Your Goals

Talk to your spouse about the pros and cons of saving money together instead of overspending on nonessential items and gifts over the holidays. You might even want to bring up how you would like to save up for a future goal together. If you or your partner continues to overspend, that goal may never be reached. You could even have a little fun with it and create a savings jar. Just fill it up until you reach your goal! (Curious about where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

3. Come Up With a Plan

Create a holiday budget together, and consider writing down whom you plan to buy for and how much you plan to spend on each person. Once you have ideas on what you want to buy and how much you plan to spend for each person, make sure you do your research by comparison shopping. This might mean shopping online rather than in store, taking advantage of special store sales and clipping coupons.

You might also want to designate roles for you and your partner to take in the holiday shopping process where one of you is responsible for finding sales while the other takes care of the actual shopping. If you plan to shop as a team, you may not only save money but spend quality time together that makes the experience much more fun and enjoyable.

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14 Last-Minute Gifts for Everyone on Your List

Here are 14 last-minute gifts for everyone on your list.

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9 Ways to Protect Your Credit While Holiday Shopping

Here are nine ways to protect yourself while shopping this holiday season.

The holiday shopping season isn’t just a favorite time for retailers, but also for scammers who are hoping to take advantage of all that extra spending you’re doing.

That’s why I want to urge you to use caution this year. It’s easy to be focused on trying to find everything on your list and miss some of the risky behaviors you might be engaging in.

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself this holiday season.

1. Carry just one credit card with you and leave the rest at home. That way, you’ll minimize the risk if your wallet or purse is stolen.

2. Only shop at well-known stores. “Pop-up” stores are becoming increasingly popular, especially in major urban centers, but these stores may not always be legitimate, or they may not have the best payment security.

3. Cover your PIN when paying with your card so others can’t see it.

4. If shopping online, make sure the website is secure and provides a level of security and authenticity for your purchases.

5. Don’t lend your credit card to a family or friend. You may trust them, but you lose control of your card and if it’s stolen, it will be YOUR credit that could be affected.

6. Review charges while still in a store. It’s so easy to accidentally turn a $10.00 charge into a $100.00 charge.

7. Be cautious when filling out forms, such as those for home delivery, extended warranties, rain checks, etc. These forms contain a lot of personal information that can easily be used by a scammer or identity thief. Ensure that the form is received by a store employee.

8. Keep all receipts for every purchase you make. When your credit card statement arrives, sit down and go line by line through each purchase, comparing the purchase on the statement with your receipts. This seemingly daunting task will not take as long as you think it will, and your credit will benefit, since too much debt can hurt your credit scores.

9. Never spend more than you can immediately pay back. Even if the deal is really good, you’ll lose the benefit of the discount if you can’t pay off your credit card before you are charged interest, so set a budget.

The holidays can be a lot of fun and a good opportunity to get some deals, but make sure to follow these tips so you come out ahead and your credit is protected.

[Editor’s note: Regularly checking your credit scores can help you recognize quickly if you’ve been a victim of fraud. That’s because your scores can be vulnerable to major spending changes. You can get your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.]

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8 Things to Buy After Thanksgiving

buy-after-thanksgiving

When it comes to shopping, the days and weeks after Thanksgiving are unparalleled.

You have the twin massive discount days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You have the seasonal Fall items going on massive sale to make way for the holidays. And you have discounts on things people might buy that aren’t necessarily linked to the holidays, like appliances and other capital equipment, because stores need to make room for next year’s models. Finally, the winter is the “off season” for so many things and buying in the off season can help you save a lot of money.

Here’s a list of things you should buy after Thanksgiving.

1. Electronics

The key to winning Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) is watching the circulars as they are leaked and doing some serious comparison-shopping. High-ticket electronics from brands you recognize like tablets, computers, and video game consoles from Sony, Microsoft, Apple, and more, will all tout mega-deals, the weekend after Thanksgiving. But remember, it’s best not to get carried away gorging on the great deals that pan out because it might leave you needing money closer to the holidays!

2. Leftover Thanksgiving Decorations

Thanksgiving will happen in just 52 short weeks but all those Thanksgiving-themed decorations, and many of the Autumn-themed decorations, will be deeply discounted as stores look to get rid of stock. If you’ve wanted an orange and red wreath or an Autumn-inspired centerpiece, now is the time to start snagging them because in a few short days they’ll be gone.

3. Live Christmas Trees

One sneaky good thing to buy right after Thanksgiving is live Christmas trees. Many live tree sellers will discount them initially to start moving some of their stock and then start selling them at regular price as Christmas draws near. They won’t start discounting them again until it’s time for the procrastinators to buy.

4. Big Ticket Appliances

Stores will discount large appliances as we near the end of the year to clear inventory for newer models. You can expect to see sales on refrigerators, washers, dryers and other large appliances around this time. If you are getting rid of an old appliance, you may find your local utility will haul it away for you or even pay you for them.

5. Cars

Late November is a fortuitous time for a car buyer. As the end of the year draws closer, sales people are thinking about hitting their annual quotas and willing to make deals to move cars. The next model year will have been released near the end of the summer, so previous model years that are still around in November have been sitting for a long time. The confluence of those factors makes late November and December a prime time to strike a deal.

(If you are thinking about buying a car, it’s important to check your credit since a good score will help you qualify for a better interest rate. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

6. Recreational Vehicles

The same logic for cars also works with recreational vehicles (RVs) but even more so. The winter months are also the slowest in the RV business. People hunker down for the winter and aren’t thinking about making cross-country trips — dealers will still want to sell vehicles.

7. Cookware

Cookware will be discounted because a lot of people will be cooking and entertaining, which means a lot of people will discover their cookware needs an upgrade. Retailers know this so, to win over their share of the market, they will entice shoppers with great deals around this time.

8. Tools

Tools make great gifts and retailers will often offer some fantastic deals on cheap tools. It’s a great time to pick up a tool you’ve always needed for that last project on the list but never had the heart to pay full price for.

You can save a bundle after Thanksgiving if you’re judicious in what you buy. Always comparison-shop and make sure that deal you see before you actually is a deal.

Finally, remember that there are some things that will be deeply discounted after the holidays – things that are classic gifts but rarely get used. Gift cards, exercise equipment, and many other items will be on clearance after the New Year!

Image: Eva-Katalin

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8 Things to Buy After Thanksgiving

buy-after-thanksgiving

When it comes to shopping, the days and weeks after Thanksgiving are unparalleled.

You have the twin massive discount days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You have the seasonal Fall items going on massive sale to make way for the holidays. And you have discounts on things people might buy that aren’t necessarily linked to the holidays, like appliances and other capital equipment, because stores need to make room for next year’s models. Finally, the winter is the “off season” for so many things and buying in the off season can help you save a lot of money.

Here’s a list of things you should buy after Thanksgiving.

1. Electronics

The key to winning Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) is watching the circulars as they are leaked and doing some serious comparison-shopping. High-ticket electronics from brands you recognize like tablets, computers, and video game consoles from Sony, Microsoft, Apple, and more, will all tout mega-deals, the weekend after Thanksgiving. But remember, it’s best not to get carried away gorging on the great deals that pan out because it might leave you needing money closer to the holidays!

2. Leftover Thanksgiving Decorations

Thanksgiving will happen in just 52 short weeks but all those Thanksgiving-themed decorations, and many of the Autumn-themed decorations, will be deeply discounted as stores look to get rid of stock. If you’ve wanted an orange and red wreath or an Autumn-inspired centerpiece, now is the time to start snagging them because in a few short days they’ll be gone.

3. Live Christmas Trees

One sneaky good thing to buy right after Thanksgiving is live Christmas trees. Many live tree sellers will discount them initially to start moving some of their stock and then start selling them at regular price as Christmas draws near. They won’t start discounting them again until it’s time for the procrastinators to buy.

4. Big Ticket Appliances

Stores will discount large appliances as we near the end of the year to clear inventory for newer models. You can expect to see sales on refrigerators, washers, dryers and other large appliances around this time. If you are getting rid of an old appliance, you may find your local utility will haul it away for you or even pay you for them.

5. Cars

Late November is a fortuitous time for a car buyer. As the end of the year draws closer, sales people are thinking about hitting their annual quotas and willing to make deals to move cars. The next model year will have been released near the end of the summer, so previous model years that are still around in November have been sitting for a long time. The confluence of those factors makes late November and December a prime time to strike a deal.

(If you are thinking about buying a car, it’s important to check your credit since a good score will help you qualify for a better interest rate. You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)

6. Recreational Vehicles

The same logic for cars also works with recreational vehicles (RVs) but even more so. The winter months are also the slowest in the RV business. People hunker down for the winter and aren’t thinking about making cross-country trips — dealers will still want to sell vehicles.

7. Cookware

Cookware will be discounted because a lot of people will be cooking and entertaining, which means a lot of people will discover their cookware needs an upgrade. Retailers know this so, to win over their share of the market, they will entice shoppers with great deals around this time.

8. Tools

Tools make great gifts and retailers will often offer some fantastic deals on cheap tools. It’s a great time to pick up a tool you’ve always needed for that last project on the list but never had the heart to pay full price for.

You can save a bundle after Thanksgiving if you’re judicious in what you buy. Always comparison-shop and make sure that deal you see before you actually is a deal.

Finally, remember that there are some things that will be deeply discounted after the holidays – things that are classic gifts but rarely get used. Gift cards, exercise equipment, and many other items will be on clearance after the New Year!

Image: Eva-Katalin

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8 Black Friday Shopping Strategies

black-friday-tips-2016

Whether you’re a diehard tent-popper or stage a silent boycott every year, there’s no ignoring Black Friday. But are these deals as life-changing as we’re led to believe? Sometimes, yes, but in most cases, not really. After all, doorbuster discounts aren’t exclusive after Thanksgiving. In the past several years, retailers have held “Black Friday in July” sales, pre-holiday sales in October, and early bird sales the week before Black Friday.

Still, Black Friday is coming whether you like it or not. While some of you die-hards may have your strategy in place, newbies may need a tip or two if they plan to go shopping. Here are eight things to keep in mind as you prepare for Black Friday.

1. Make a List

Black Friday shopping can be overwhelming, so if you want to avoid going off the rails and buying a bunch of gifts you don’t need — or winding up in debt, which could drag down your credit — don’t keep your list in your head. Instead, use a gift-list app like Gifted (available on the Apple Store and Google Play) to keep track of recipients’ likes and dislikes, sizes, ideas and budgets.

2. Focus

Historically, the deepest Black Friday discounts are on electronics, apparel and beauty products, so instead of trying to conquer your holiday list in one day, focus on those three areas and tackle the other categories later. Also, since you still have plenty of time in the holiday shopping season to look for deals, go for only the deepest discounts (40% and up).

3. Sign Up for Store Emails

Now is a great time to sign up for emails from the stores you want to hit on Black Friday. You might be privy to advance details on sales or private discounts. Set up a separate free email account to capture that mail — there’s going to be a lot of it. Following stores on Twitter or Facebook can also keep you in the know.

4. Discounted Gift Cards

If you have a general idea of where you plan to shop, search online for “discounted gift cards (name of store),” and see what comes up. Many gift card merchants sell digital or printable gift cards that are discounted between 2% to 30%. Use that gift card to make a purchase, and you’ll save a bundle!

5. The Early Bird Bonus

If you’re game for getting up at the crack of dawn, you could be well-rewarded. In previous years, stores like H&M, Best Buy, JCPenney, Kohl’s & Kmart have handed out goodies like gift cards and even movie tickets to folks at the front of the line.

6. Consider Opening a Store Charge Account

Once you’ve made it to the store, you may consider asking about opening a store charge account to get an extra discount. While most stores offer 10% or 15% off your first purchase with a new account, some may have restrictions on sale days like Black Friday. If they don’t, you’ve scored an extra discount off of your Black Friday merch! Keep in mind, store cards usually have a high annual percentage rate (APR) so it’s a good idea to pay them in full. If you can’t, the rewards won’t be worth it. (Not sure if your finances can handle another credit card? You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

7. Divide & Conquer

If there’s a store where you need to get several items, see if you can find a friend to join you. Compare lists and help each other out. You can dash off to the electronics section to grab discounted Apple Watches, and they can check out those doorbuster beauty deals you read about.

8. Don’t Ignore the Internet

If you just can’t bear the thought of pounding the pavement and fighting the crowds for deals, stay in, grab a cup of coffee, and check out the online deals. E-commerce retailers like Amazon (see my shopping hacks here), Target, Wal-Mart, Newegg and Best Buy are your best bet, as year after year they have offered Black Friday deals. Those with physical stores (like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy) may have exclusive online deals.

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Black Friday or Cyber Monday: What to Buy When

what-to-buy-on-black-friday-2016

Whether or not you mark off Black Friday on your calendar, chances are you’re wondering what bargains are out there this season. For instance, is it better to purchase a smartphone that Friday, or should you hold off until Cyber Monday? To help you break down what’s best to buy when, we turned to deal-hunting expert Rebecca Lehmann, manager of content marketing for Brad’s Deals. Here’s what she told us.

Black Friday

All Things Apple

Black Friday is a great time for buying “anything Apple,” said Lehmann, “but not directly from Apple” (i.e., you’ll want to shop for Apple products at Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy instead). “You might still be paying $299 for an iPad Mini,” she said, “but bundled with a gift card, that could bump up the value.”

Blu Rays & DVDs

“You can count on all that kind of stuff for Black Friday,” Lehmann said of Blu Rays and DVDs.

TVs and Cameras 

At times you can score deals on minor stuff like home goods and other categories, but for the most part you’ll want to hone in on electronics. For Lehmann, that means keep your eyes peeled for cameras, flat-screen TVs and laptops.

Smartphones

“If you need a new phone, Black Friday is hands-down the day to do it,” said Lehmann. “You’ll get a really good price on your trade-in, which you can then apply to your phone, and signing up for a contract lowers the price even more.” If you miss out on the Black Friday deals, don’t despair: The prices you see on phones now are generally “the prices they’re going to be for the whole season,” Lehmann said.

Vacuums

“We see a lot of vacuum deals for Black Friday,” said Lehmann.

Winter Wardrobe Staples

Out of boots? Need a new puffer coat? Now’s the time to scoop those winter duds up, said Lehmann. “Anything you need to pad up your winter wardrobe, Black Friday is the time to do it.”

Cyber Monday 

Airfare

“There are always going to be airfare sales on Cyber Monday,” said Lehmann, especially among discount carriers like Spirit, JetBlue and Virgin America. Just know they usually have blackout days over the holidays so you’ll need to plan your trip for next spring.

Computers & Laptops

This is really where places like Newegg, the popular online computer goods store, shine, said Lehman. “They have a little bit of everything, electronics and audio, and they’re very competitive.” Expect to see similar deals nationwide.

Online-Only Stores

“The best deals for Cyber Monday will be on websites that just don’t have bricks-and-mortar locations,” said Lehmann. Think home decor sites like Etsy, Minted, Society6, and so on.

Right Before Christmas

Toys

“Toys are never at their best on Black Friday,” said Lehmann, who advised waiting until the last two weeks before Christmas to buy them. You can learn how to get the toys your kids actually want here.

Remember, scoring a bargain never hurts, especially on items you’ve been meaning to buy. But if you’re going over budget or even racking up debt, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back. You can see where your finances stand — and what areas you need to improve — by signing up for a free summary of your credit report, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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4 Things To Watch Out for This Black Friday

Black Friday is right around the corner, and shoppers are already being primed by retailers for the kind of buying gluttony that makes eater’s remorse look like a bloated post-Thanksgiving walk in the park.

In the same way that dieters count calories before they start gorging in order to avoid weight gain this time of year, the best way to avoid the accumulation of extra debt is to create a spending plan, a.k.a. a budget, and then stick to it.

While this may sound simple, it’s not something that should exist in a nebulous way. You can’t have a list in your head and engage in sensible spending unless you have an army of elves on your payroll. Make that list. Check it twice. And then forget who was naughty or nice: Spend what you can afford. Here are some more tips that can help protect your finances this holiday shopping season.

1. Carefully Consider Store Credit Cards

One way to stretch your spending power is to increase your available credit. Many retailers offer credit cards with zero interest for a certain period of time, instant approval, and occasionally a decent discount

Before you accept the offer or decide that you can manage more available credit while maintaining a utilization ratio under 10% (a best practice for maximizing your credit score), make sure you understand the terms of engagement. That zero-interest period offered in big type on the card application may morph into a high-interest loan before you know it, and with that, the likelihood increases exponentially that any discount you received for signing up will be lost to interest payments.

If you do elect to get a new credit card, just make sure you can manage your credit responsibly by keeping your debt levels low and making payments on time. (You can check on your finances by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

2. Note Deal Exclusions

It is not unusual to be mugged by your own expectations during the holiday season. This is especially the case when it comes to special offers and deep retailer discounts. Never forget that they were engineered by marketing pros to get you to the store.

What happens when you get there can often be an infuriatingly familiar tale of holiday shopping woe: The particular item that you want — generally something that a lot of people want, and which sells briskly without the aid of the proffered discount — is not eligible for the promotion, something you would have known had you been able to understand the auctioneer-speed exclusions read at the end of the 30-second ad spot or taken the time to read the print ad.

If you see a promotion this holiday season, if the must-have toy that cannot be found is supposedly available, or if a promotion has you thinking that you’re going to get off easy financially on a particular gift purchase, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make sure you’re not hitting the shopper frustration zone.

Remember: If it seems too good to be true, it may well be.

3. Beware Gift Card Fraud

There’s nothing worse than hitting 10 outlet stores on Black Friday and coming up empty for someone on your list. Gift cards can be a great way to solve your holiday shopping shortfalls. Who doesn’t like store credit? But beware of the scams.

Fraudsters have been known to photograph the numbers on gift cards at a store and then call the customer service departments identified on the back of the cards to see if (and when) they have been activated, so they can drain them. If you give a card, you might want to tell the recipient that it’s best to use it as soon as possible.

Avoid buying gift cards from a third party, since there are many counterfeiters out there and you cannot be sure that you are getting what you paid for. That said, the multiple retailer card displays that you encounter at supermarkets and pharmacy chains are generally a safe place to buy gift cards.

4. Research Store Promotions

The best way to navigate Black Friday deals is to master them before you go shopping. Thinking about applying for a store credit card? Do the research before you’re at the checkout counter and facing down a 10-to-20% discount. If you know which retailers you are going to visit, go online and find out what promotions they have. Plan your day according to those promotions, since other shoppers will have done their homework as well, and the best deals will be where you encounter the longest lines if you don’t get in line at the crack of dawn.

As with all things shopping-related, if you do the legwork before you actually hoof it to your local mall or outlet center, you will get the best bang for your buck. Make a plan and stick to it.

Bottom line: Anyone can get through the holiday season without suffering the personal finance version of seasonal weight gain, but you can’t wing it.

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6 Toy Drones for Your Holiday Wish List

best-toy-drone-2016

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