Whether shopping online, by phone or at the mall, chances are consumers will be using a credit card for some of their holiday purchases. With the holiday shopping season in full swing, the Federal Trade Commission has issued an alert to consumers offering tips to keep in mind when using credit cards. The three most important things to remember, the FTC advises, is keep track of your spending; keep an eye on your credit card and account number; and keep good records.
1. Keep track of your spending
Remember, credit cards are like loans - they have to be paid back. Incidental and impulse purchases add up. Owing more than you can repay can damage your credit rating and make it hard to finance a car, rent an apartment, and even get a job. A wise suggestion, the FTC says, would be to pay your bill on time and in full, if possible. If not, you'll have to pay finance charges on the unpaid balance and it could take forever to get caught up if paying just the minimum.
2. Keep an eye on your credit card and account number
Never lend your credit card to anyone, the FTC advises, because you are responsible for paying the bill. Problems with the bill can damage your credit rating. Also, don't sign a blank charge slip; draw a line through the blank spaces above the total so that the amount cannot be changed. Only carry the credit cards you anticipate using, and be very cautious about disclosing your account number over the telephone unless you know with whom you are dealing. And finally, never write down your account number on the outside of an envelope or piece of paper.
If your credit and ATM cards are lost or stolen, the FTC suggests that you report the loss or theft immediately to the card issuers. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies. Always follow up with a letter that includes your account number, when you noticed the card was missing, and the date on which you reported the loss.
3. Keep good records
Save your receipts, compare them with your monthly bill, and promptly report your problems to the credit card issuer. If ordering by mail, phone or online, keep detailed copies about the transaction, including warranties, or return and refund policies.
With these few tips in mind, the FTC says, you should enjoy a happy holiday shopping season.
Copies of the consumer alert are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov.
The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.