help to a hindrance.
If you have already gotten caught in the credit card trap, plan your escape by implementing solid strategies. Don’t become a prime candidate for credit repair scams (see “Battling Online Credit Repair Scams,” Verve, November 1999). Start paying down the cards with the highest interest rates first by using money from your salary, savings, or money market fund. In most cases, you’re better off taking money from these resources than by continuing to let the interest on your credit cards multiply. Just be sure to keep money on hand for emergencies. If you can’t pay your balances off in full, at least make more than the minimum monthly payments. Failure to put this habit in place can impact the rest of your life. A $6,000 credit card balance at an interest rate of 17%, for example, will take you 37 years to pay off if you pay only the minimum.
Use the Web for comparison shopping. There’s just no excuse for overpaying for products and service these days. Aside from gathering advice from family, friends, and the media, you should also be plugging into the Web to scout out the best deals. Not only does the Internet allow you to purchase everything you’ve ever dreamed of with the click of a mouse, it also connects you with a wealth of independent sites that offer free product ratings and reviews. This transformation of the Internet levels the playing field for African Americans, as they are able to access information that has been traditionally out of their reach.
But you can’t capitalize if you’re not connected. Quantum Electronic Data Inc. reported that only a quarter (25.3%) of African American households had a personal computer in 1998. “The digital divide is frightening because there is a whole group of consumers that don’t have access to the Internet and those people will be left behind,” comments Holly Anderson, president of the National Consumer League. So it’s up to you to make sure you and your family link up with the best bargains by maintaining a connection with a personal computer and modem.
Safeguard your privacy. According to a survey conducted by the National Consumer League (NCL), nearly six in 10 (58%) Americans expressed concerns about privacy. They are specifically concerned about the misuse of their Social Security card (71%), financial information (64%), and health information (54%). In addition, three-quarters (75%) believe that their privacy will be more threatened in 2020 than it is today.
Experts say consumer concerns may be valid. Currently your Web surfing activities are tracked so that companies can draw all types of conclusions about your interests to help them develop profiles about you that may or may not be accurate. Right now firms primarily use this information to develop personalized sales pitches. “But companies could use this information for secondary reasons too. Your search on AIDS or cancer doesn’t mean that you have [those conditions]. However, some of the Websites that you visit could read your profile to conclude certain