As you gear up for the bustling holiday season, you’ll be shopping for the latest toys for the kids, unique gifts for family members and friends, the perfect dress for the office Christmas party, and, no doubt, buying tickets to travel out of town. In nearly all of these instances, you will be using a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover Card to make purchases.
After all, using your credit or charge card is actually the best option for holiday shopping in terms of security and tracing. You’ll have the security of shopping safely and knowing that if your card is stolen, it can be canceled immediately. Your bank can issue you a new credit card and have it delivered the next business day. You should limit your credit card use to major purchases such as televisions, stereos, and jewelry, so that if you need to make a return without a receipt, the credit card data can be used as a tracking mechanism. Also, if the product is flawed, it can be disputed through your credit card company. With online shopping, an increasingly popular medium, your credit card is required as well. You cannot use a check, and C.O.D. is rarely offered.
When using a credit card, it’s important to do so wisely and sensibly. Credit card companies are in the business of making money. It’s important that you look out for your own personal interests. “We get so many calls from consumers who complain about the interest rates that credit card companies charge and from people who want to know their rights as credit card holders,” says Jennifer Davis Carey, director of consumer affairs and business regulation for the state of Massachusetts.
To address these matters, Massachusetts published a consumer guide entitled 12 Credit Card Secrets Banks Don’t Want You to Know to educate the public on how to select the best credit card and to help them understand the billing process of most companies.
Many companies engage in interest backdating, if you don’t pay off your monthly balance in full. This practice involves charging interest from the date of purchase, although days elapse before they actually pay the merchant on your behalf. Also, credit card issuers have two-cycle billing-a means of calculating interest-which results in customers paying two months’ worth of interest if they did not pay off the first month’s balance in full. Two-cycle billing only occurs when consumers have changed from paying in full to carrying a balance each month.
“It is important to know about interest backdating and two-cycle billing. If this occurs, find another credit card issuer or make sure you pay your bill in full by the due date,” says Carey.
“Ask your creditor to reduce your interest rate,” says Mel Stephens, a certified counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS).
To find credit cards that offer the best interest rates for you, visit the Global Payment Card Information Network Website at www.cardweb.com. You’ll find information on the lowest rates offered by banks, cards that have no fee, and