The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 21, 2013

Personal finance tips to help during the holidays

By Wendy Holdren
Register-Herald Reporter

— While the holiday season is a time for giving, the Associated Collection Agencies of West Virginia (ACAWV) is offering some helpful tips to help shoppers manage their finances.

“Careful planning and active communication are important tools to effectively managing personal finances during the holiday season,” ACAWV President Jill Epstein said.

“Good financial habits can help ensure a sound financial future.”

The ACAWV offers the following six tips:

- Plan and budget — Holiday gift giving doesn’t need to break the bank. Determine what you can reasonably afford, create a budget for gifts to track spending and stick to it.

- Understand credit and use it wisely — Credit can be helpful when used properly, but if mismanaged, it can become a difficult burden. Know the terms and conditions of credit cards, shop for low interest rates, make payments on time and understand the ramifications of making a late payment or missing a payment. Building a good credit score is ultimately used to determine eligibility for future credit, including auto loans and home mortgages.

- Communicate — If you’re having trouble making payments or getting calls and letters about debt, don’t ignore them. Contact the creditor to discuss alternative payment arrangement options. Debt won’t be eliminated, but it could become more manageable. Legitimate debt collectors only wish to contact to you in order to discuss the account, verify its accuracy and work on a helpful plan for resolution.

- Know your rights — Consumers have important rights when being contacted by a creditor or debt collector. For more information about working with a debt collector, visit www.ask doctordebt.org.

- Active military have special privileges — The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows active military, and in a few cases non-service members, to suspend or postpone certain civil obligations. A lender, creditor or insurer is prohibited by law from taking any adverse actions against military personnel because they exercised their rights under SCRA.

- Protect personal and financial information — Be careful about giving out information including a credit card information, bank account, or Social Security number over the phone and online until certain of the authenticity of the other party. Monitor accounts and immediately report any suspicious or unauthorized purchases to your bank or credit card provider. Consumers should also monitor their credit report. If you believe your identity has been stolen, contact local police and visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft for more information.

Dr. Alina Vrinceanu-Hamm, a staff psychologist at Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center, also encourages holiday shoppers to stick to a budget to alleviate holiday stress.

She suggests families give gifts only to children, draw names or set financial limits on gift-giving.

— E-mail: wholdren@ register-herald.com