25 Tips for Smart (and Safe) Credit Card Use During the Holidays
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The holiday shopping season is underway, and that means many of us pull out the credit cards. Not only is it an easy way to pay for what you want, when you want it, but credit cards also offer you a chance to earn rewards while you engage in holiday shopping.
Using a credit card for the holiday shopping season can be a savvy move, but you need to make sure you are truly being smart and safe with your card. Here are 25 tips for smart and safe credit card use during the holidays. (See also: Best Credit Cards for the Holidays)
Online Holiday Shopping
Online shipping has grown in popularity recently. In fact, I do a great deal of my holiday shopping online. It’s easy and convenient to shop from the comfort of your own home. However, make sure that you shop safe when you use your credit card online.
1. Avoid Using a Debit Card Online
Even with debit protections, if your number is stolen, the money is taken immediately from your checking account. Getting it put back can be difficult.
2. Use Only One Credit Card When Shopping Online
Choose one credit card and designate it for online purchases. That way, you can limit the damage if the number is stolen. You don’t have to try and chase down multiple cards.
3. Consider Third-Party Payment Processors
Instead of giving out your credit card number to various sites, consider using a third-party payment processor. Examples include PayPal and Google Checkout. Your credit card can be linked to that account, and you don’t have to enter it in each time you make an online purchase.
4. Update Your Security Software
Before you begin, make sure all of your computer’s software is working properly, and updated with the latest anti-virus, firewall, and anti-malware software.
5. Stay Away From Contests
Rather than actually “winning” something, clicking on those ads that pop up might actually result in infecting your computer.
6. Make Sure the Site Is Secure
Before you enter your personal financial information, double-check the site’s security. Make sure you are on a secure form, and don’t do business on sites you are unfamiliar with. Look for the "s" at the end of "http" in the web address, or check to see if the form is secured by a company like VeriSign.
7. Don’t Share Personal Information Over the Internet
Avoid posting personal information on social media. Don’t respond to emails asking for personal financial information; they are probably “phishing” emails (“phishing” is attempting to capture passwords, logins, credit card details, etc by pretending to be trustworthy).
8. Watch Out for Public Wireless
Only shop on networks that require a specific network security key. Shopping from public wireless hotspots is a bad idea and can make it easy for someone to steal your credit card number.
Offline Holiday Shopping
Sometimes, it’s all about going to the store. However, you still need to be safe with your credit cards. And you’re probably going to need to plan ahead a little bit as well.
9. Limit What’s in Your Wallet
The holiday shopping season offers prime opportunities for wallet and purse theft. Take out all the non-essentials, and limit the number of cards in your wallet. Consider leaving the debit card home.
10. Create a Plan of Action
When you are shopping the sales offline, you need a plan of action. Plan your route, stopping at the most important stores first to increase the chances that you will get what you want.
11. Watch Out for False Advertising
A number of retailers employ dirty tricks to lure you into the store. Check information about rainchecks and refunds, and be on the alert for bait and switch.
12. Use a List
Make a list of what you want to buy, and stick to it — especially when shopping the sales. One of the reasons there are such great deals is that retailers hope you’ll buy the sale item, and then load up on regular priced items as you head out of the store.
13. Comparison Shop
You can recruit an assistant with a cell phone to help you compare prices at different stores. Even better, take a mobile device with a barcode app. You’ll be able to compare local prices and online prices quickly and easily. Barcode Scanner for Android and Barcode Reader for iOS are two options.
14. Keep Your Credit Card Secure
Put your card away after each use. Don’t put it in your pocket. It’s too easy to steal, and it could also fall out. Take a couple extra seconds to secure your credit card.
15. Hide Your Card From Others
Believe it or not, there are people who stand in line at checkouts and memorize others’ credit card numbers. Hide your credit card number from others while you are waiting to use it.
16. Don’t Lend Out Your Credit Card
It’s tempting to let your child or a friend use your credit card. But once it’s out of your hands, it’s out of your control. Keep your credit card firmly in your own control.
17. Completely Fill Out Receipts
Don’t leave blank spaces on credit card receipts. Whether you’re getting a holiday haircut or going out for a fun dinner, fill in the tip section, and then add up the total.
Smart Credit Card Spending
Not only do you want to be safe this holiday shopping season, but you also want to be smart with how you spend with your credit cards. Be a savvy shopper, and you could come out ahead this holiday season.
18. Sign Up for a Generous Bonus
The holiday season is a perfect time to sign up for a credit card with a generous signing bonus. You have a better chance of meeting the spending requirements when you are doing your holiday shopping.
19. Be Wary of Store Cards
These are tempting with 10% and 20% off deals, but the interest rates are often high. If you carry a balance for a couple of months, the value of the discount will disappear.
20. Avoid Cash Advances
Higher interest, and a cash advance fee on top of it, make these more expensive than they are worth.
21. Put as Much as You Can on the Best Rewards Card
Choose your best rewards card, and then put as much of your holiday shopping on it. You’ll maximize your rewards much faster.
22. Consider a Card With 0% on Purchases
If you think that you will need two or three months to pay off your holiday shopping spree, apply for a 0% APR card for purchases. You’ll have a few months to pay off the balance without incurring interest charges.
23. Stick to a Budget
Don’t use your credit card as an excuse to spend more than you planned. Make a budget, and then stick to it. Pay off your card with money you already have.
24. Track Your Spending
You don’t want to go over your credit limit. Verify what you have available, and keep track so you don’t exceed it.
25. Start Saving for Next Year
Once this holiday season is over, take stock of what you spent. Break it down, and set aside a little bit each month so that next year, you are ready to spend on your credit cards — and pay off the balance immediately after earning the rewards.
Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.