With fall now officially here and millions of parents across the country finally getting over the stress and potential financial concerns of back-to-school time, it might be time for many to instead turn their attentions to the next big annual milestone: The holiday shopping season. With the end of September looming and Halloween decorations likely hitting many of your favorite stores, you might want to turn your attention to how you'll afford all the purchases you have to make in the next few months.
More or less regardless of their financial background, most consumers spend a lot more money from October to December than they do in any other three-month period during the year, and as a result, many will run into much higher credit card bills and other issues that could make it more difficult to preserve a healthy standing. For this reason, taking the month of September to assess where you stand, what you can afford to take on in terms of additional debt, and how much beyond that you will be able to safely spend without endangering your other finances will likely do you a world of good.
What you'll need to begin
The simplest way to have a quick look at every aspect of your credit all at once is by ordering a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax — and review it carefully. This will let you see every account currently listed in your name as well as details about how you've handled it (such as your payment history) in addition to more basic information such as how much you owe. You may be a little bit shocked at the results, though, because studies have found that the average person tends to think they're in better shape when it comes to their debt totals than they really are.
"The Federal Reserve Bank of New York did a study that showed that households underestimated their credit card debt by as much as a third," Stuart Pratt, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Data Industry Association, told NAPSI. "The average amount of credit card debt carried by a household was around $7,000. However, consumers estimated their debt at around $5,000. Credit report literacy is a priority for the credit bureaus. By looking at this, consumers can get a more complete and accurate reflection of outstanding debt obligations before doing their back-to-school shopping.
If the amount you owe doesn't match up with what you thought your balances were, that might be a sign that you haven't managed your accounts as closely as you might have thought, but it could also be a result of an unfair marking appearing on your credit report. For this reason, you should check the information on this document with those on your monthly credit card statements to verify where you stand. If you still think an entry is problematic, it might be wise to contact a credit repair law firm about the item, as this may help you to sort out the issue more quickly than you may be able to achieve yourself.
What else can you do?
Of course, just because you owe more than you thought, that might simply be a consequence of your spending more than you might have intended and paying back less than you should have. In these cases, it might be wise to start putting more money toward your outstanding balances in an effort to improve your credit and financial standing prior to the holiday season, when you're more apt to spend large amounts within a period of just a few weeks. This will help to lessen the load you're carrying, and probably will have to deal with once the new year rolls around. In addition, doing so will also help to improve your credit scores, as the amount you owe versus your total limits (specifically, when viewed as a percentage of them) makes up 30 percent of your ratings.
That kind of credit fix, in turn, might help you qualify for the best possible terms on any new accounts you might seek on the kinds of cards that are usually offered in the run-up to the post-Thanksgiving shopping season. Whether it's a card that comes with huge cash back rewards or long periods with no interest charges applied to purchases you make, that kind of account can certainly make the season more affordable if you make sure to manage the account correctly. But at the same time, you'll have to think hard about the credit score consequences of opening such an account, as you will probably take a little bit of temporary a credit hit when you open such an account.