Prices are falling. Cash registers are ringing. The aisles are decked with enticing gifts.
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday shopping flurry. Before you know it, you’re sitting amid drifts of torn wrapping paper, resolving to cut back your credit card spending in the coming year.
Credit cards can be a huge holiday helper while you shop, saving you time at the checkout line and allowing you to pile up rewards on your holiday purchases. More than a third of Americans use credit cards to finance their holiday shopping. “Credit cards are a great tool and in many situations more convenient than cash or debit cards,” says Ethan Nelson, Oregon Community Credit Union’s Vice President of Lending.
But that convenience makes it easy to lose track of how much you’re spending. Americans who use their credit cards for holiday shopping rack up an average of $986 a year in debt. At 15 percent interest, it would take 10 years of minimum payments to pay off that much—with interest tacking on nearly $400.
As long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls, credit cards can help you get the most for your money this season. Protect yourself by developing these good holiday credit card habits.
Make a list—and a budget.
As you compile your holiday shopping list, figure out not only who you need to buy for, but also how much you can realistically spend. The more honest you are about what you can afford this year, the less likely you’ll be to overspend on your credit cards.
That said, leave some flex room in your budget for surprise expenses that pop up. Nearly seven in 10 holiday shoppers plan to follow some sort of budget, but it’s the unexpected items that tend to knock them off track.
Check your statement twice.
In the holiday frenzy, many people don’t even take the time time to look at their receipts after each purchase, let alone their credit card statements. But that’s exactly what you should do—especially the one that includes your last-minute Christmas shopping.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are two of the worst days of the year for credit card fraud, with fraud rates skyrocketing by more than 200 percent. Examine your statement carefully to make sure it reflects only the purchases you’ve made.
Avoid the temptation of too many cards.
Once Black Friday ignites your hunger for an awesome deal, it’s hard to resist all the sales and offers vying for your attention. Department stores, for example, will often take 10 percent off your purchase if you open up a new credit card on the spot.
But be careful about opening too many accounts. Is 10 percent off today’s purchase worth the interest you’ll spend if you don’t pay it off right away—or the temptation of having another open credit line? Plus, your credit report takes a hit every time you sign up for a new card. Too many at once can impact your credit score.
Reap, but don’t chase, rewards.
If you have a rewards credit card, using it for your holiday shopping can help you maximize each dollar you spend this season. However, if you charge more than you can afford, you could end up paying more in interest than the rewards are worth.
Alternatively, consider about redeeming the rewards that you have earned from reward cards you may already have.
Holiday shopping with credit cards doesn’t have to leave you with a huge mess to clean up in the New Year. These good credit card habits will help you stay on track with your spending.