TIME Saving & Spending

The Disastrous Black Friday Mistake You Must Avoid

Money in jeans pocket
Image Source—Getty Images

Shop smarter—or else pay for the consequences

Going into the holiday season with a budget is a good start, but it might not be good enough. A new study shows that misestimating how much of a deal they’ll get on Black Friday and underestimating how long it will take them to pay off their holiday splurges will cost American shoppers.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average holiday shopper spent a little less than $770 last year. It predicts a total increase in Americans’ holiday spending of just over 4% for this year.

But shoppers could find themselves with sticker shock, a new study from NerdWallet.com warns. And middle-class shoppers could bear the brunt of it. According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll for NerdWallet, families in the $50,000 to $75,000 income bracket won’t pay off their debts for an average of nearly three months. Poorer families will pay off their debts a little more quickly, in an average of two months.

Odds are, even these estimations are optimistic. Other studies show that people tend to take longer to pay off their holiday bills than they anticipate. And, odds are, many of these shoppers aren’t starting from scratch but adding onto an existing balance — one that averages nearly $16,000, based on NerdWallet’s look at household credit card debt.

And the cost of servicing that debt keeps going up. The average APR on a general-use credit card is a tick under 16%, according to Bankrate.com. For store cards — you know, the kind many of us open over the holidays to get the one-day discount on purchases — it’s even higher. They have an average APR of over 23%, higher if you have marginal credit.

New data from Experian shows that more of us are signing up for those store cards and the higher rates they charge; both the amount we borrow and the number of cards we have has risen over the past year.

“Middle-class households can fall into a costly situation this holiday season, where they’ve been extended ample credit but have incomes too thin to comfortably pay the bills later,” warns NerdWallet senior retail analyst Matthew Ong. “Many are still struggling to reconcile a typically middle-class standard of living with stagnant incomes,” he says.

Adding insult to injury, NerdWallet also finds that those Black Friday deals many of us think we’re going to score might not be so hot after all.

In an analysis of 27 major retailers’ ads, more than 90% of them listed “sale” prices identical to last year’s Black Friday prices. This isn’t always apparent at a quick glance; the site found that retailers use tricks like misleading original prices and make shoppers jump through hoops like requiring mail-in rebates.

MONEY Shopping

Are Millennials to Blame for Stores Being Open on Thanksgiving?

millennial shoppers window shopping
Mireya Acierto—FilmMagic

Retailers say they're open on Thanksgiving because that's what customers want. But one age group in particular is more than happy to leave the dinner table and go shopping on Turkey Day.

Yes, it’s the millennials—the Baby Boomer offspring demographic whose consumer behavior is analyzed ad nauseum by marketers—who say they’re plenty game for shopping on Thanksgiving.

According to one national survey from the loyalty marketing and customer analytics firm LoyaltyOne, only one-third of the overall population thinks that “stores being open all day Thanksgiving is a great idea.” However, roughly half of those ages 18 to 24 say it’s “great” for stores to be open on the national holiday, while 48% of consumers ages 25 to 34 are also on board with the idea. Among folks ages 55 and up, by contrast, only 16% think all-day store hours on Thanksgiving is a wonderful idea.

Another recent poll, conducted by IPSOS for Offers.com, yielded similar results, in which millennials are more likely than other generations to say they’ll be shopping this Thanksgiving. Two-thirds of those ages 18 to 34 say they plan to shop on the holiday—in store, online, or both—compared to 51% of consumers ages 35 to 54 and only 30% of the 55+ category.

So it would seem as if all of the retailers that insist on being open on Thanksgiving are doing so to an outsized degree to play up to millennials, the all-important shopping demographic that’s 80 million strong and expected to account for 30% of all retail sales by 2020. Following this idea through, if the hundreds of thousands of Americans who hate the idea of consumerism encroaching on Thanksgiving and have pledged to not shop on the holiday are looking for something to blame other than plain old greed on the part of retailers, it would be easy to point the finger at millennials. After all, as many “Black Thursday” boycotters have pointed out, the stores wouldn’t be open on Thanksgiving if no one showed up to shop that day.

And yet, it’s much too simple to say that if it wasn’t for millennials, the stores being shamed for Thanksgiving Day hours would see the light and remain closed that day. For one thing, a broader look at millennial consumer behavior shows that a big reason this group is eager to jump on board with shopping on Thanksgiving is that young people like the idea of shopping pretty much every day. Other studies show that millennials are four times more likely to shop on Black Friday than their Baby Boomer parents, and that millennials have the highest percentage of any generation that will be shopping on Cyber Monday as well.

Add in that millennials are less likely to have families or own homes, and so therefore they’re less likely than older groups to host Thanksgiving or feel like the day must remain a sacred one devoted exclusively to family time. If anything, many members of Gen Y—who have always lived in a world with 24/7 access to shopping and deals, thanks to Amazon.com and e-retail—are probably more than ready to ditch their families for some portion of Thanksgiving when the day’s sales beckon. At some point, the small talk with Aunt Myrtle grows stale.

Of course, millennials are hardly the only ones who will be deserting the family dinner table before dessert is served in order to go shopping on Thanksgiving. What’s more, some of what might be perceived as anti-family, anti-Thanksgiving sentiment on the behalf of millennials can be explained by how survey questions are asked. In yet another holiday consumer poll, 77% of Americans ages 18 to 39 said that “retail stores should not be open on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can enjoy time with their friends and family.”

When the issue is raised this way—with the focus on employees who might be forced to work on the holiday—it’s clear that the vast majority of millennials don’t want to see Thanksgiving ruined for American families. On the other hand, millennials more so than other age groups appear to like the idea of shopping on Thanksgiving at least partly because they don’t want to be stuck for the whole day with families of their own.

MONEY Food & Drink

These Coffees Want To Be the Christmas Version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Seasonal drinks from Dunkin Donuts
Jim Scherer

Can the pumpkin spice latte phenomenon be repeated, only in winter? Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and others hope so—and they're heaping on sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and chestnut flavors into new drinks to make it happen.

It’s no wonder coffee chains are trying to replicate the retail magic that appears annually in the form of autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice beverages. A hot seasonal beverage is proven to juice sales big time. To milk the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) frenzy even more, Starbucks rolled out the beverage earlier than usual this past summer in many parts of the country, and it boosted sales to the surprise of no one.

Peppermint, which is known to increase physiological arousal and heightens alertness, has been a popular flavor in holiday season beverages, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, McDonald’s, and 7-Eleven, among many others, are bringing peppermint-laced hot drinks back to their winter menus. But the new holiday beverages go far beyond a mere minty twist, with chestnut, cinnamon, gingerbread, sugar cookie, and other sickly sweet flavors providing the rush. (Perhaps that puzzlingly catchy Def Leppard song was really about holiday season coffees?)

When done right, a hot seasonal beverage succeeds for the seller two-fold by 1) drawing in customers early and often, at least partially because any limited-time offer won’t be around forever and people don’t want to miss out; and 2) getting customers to pay more than usual for their caffeine fix. As NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs explained of all unique coffee beverages, customers “expect to pay a premium because the specialty drinks … are not something they can replicate at home or easily get at retail.”

All of which helps explain why Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and others have introduced these new contenders for the 2014 winter season:

Starbucks Chestnut Praline Latte
In the same way that pumpkin spice has come to be the dominant, most eagerly anticipated flavor of fall, Starbucks is hoping its brand-new Chestnut Praline Latte becomes inextricably tied to the winter holiday season. “The rich, earthy, sweet, roastiness of chestnut is a perfect foil to espresso. Then we balanced the nutty chestnut flavor with brown sugar and spice,” Starbucks research and development manager Amy Dilger said of the new latte, which is the company’s first new holiday beverage in five years. “It’s a quintessential flavor of the holiday season.”

To get customers to sample the goods early in the season, Starbucks is having a buy-one, get-one-free special on holiday drinks, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. through November 16.

Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Cookie Latte
Less than a week after Halloween, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced its lineup of sugary winter beverages, including two cookie-flavored lattes: the Sugar Cookie Latte and the Snickerdoodle Latte. They’re both available in hot or cold varieties, as is Dunkin’s Peppermint Mocha, which is back again this holiday season.

Caribou Coffee Gingersnap Cookie Mocha
With “hints of ginger, allspice and clove,” the Gingersnap Cookie Mocha from Caribou Coffee is trying to make its case as the hot caffeinated beverage of the season. Previous seasonal brews also are returning to Caribou’s menu, including the Ho Ho Mint Mocha and special Reindeer Blend coffee—and thank goodness the latter is false advertising. (The coffee contains no real reindeer ingredients, but does have “a hint of caramel and a dash of spice.”)

Peet’s Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte
Peet’s is bringing back holiday beverages such as the Sea Salt Caramel Mocha, Eggnog Latte, and Winter Solstice Tea, while also introducing a new seasonal beverage, the Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte. Follow the link for a coupon granting a free small seasonal beverage with the purchase of any food item, now through November 26.

MONEY Shopping

Walmart Pumps Up Black Friday and Thanksgiving Deals

Employees wear Santa hats as customers check out at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location ahead of Black Friday in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013.
A scene at Los Angeles-area Walmart the week before Thanksgiving and Black Friday 2013. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images

"New Black Friday" is the term being used by Walmart for its Black Friday promotions—which actually start on Thanksgiving and last for five days.

On Tuesday, Walmart held a press conference to introduce what it’s calling the “New Black Friday.” Per the ongoing retail trend, the Black Friday sales start on Thanksgiving Thursday, and they’re hardly limited to a single day. “This year, we’re blowing it out with five days of deals in store and online,” Walmart chief merchandising officer Duncan Mac Naughton said. “We’ll have crazy low prices on the gifts our customers want.”

First things first: Is there anything really “new” about Walmart launching Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving, or about having sales stretch from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday? On both accounts, the answer is no.

Last year, Walmart’s Black Friday included a staggered series of doorbuster deals, with some available at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, others starting a couple hours later, and still others taking effect early on Friday morning. What’s more, Walmart and other retailers began trickling out pre-Black Friday sales the weekend before Thanksgiving if not earlier, plenty of other deals were available over the entire five-day Thanksgiving-Cyber Monday period, and the majority of these sale prices could be purchased online or in stores for the same exact price.

And guess what? This year, it’s essentially the same story. The hours have been tweaked for the 2014 version—special deals are available at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, then more starting at 6 a.m. the next morning—but it’s basically been the same plan since 2012.

On the one hand, spreading what are supposedly the best holiday sales out over five days—or, let’s face it, over the course of two full months—might make you wonder why it’s necessary to go shopping at all on a day traditionally devoted to family time rather than mall time. Walmart may hope that you physically go shopping in its stores on all five of those days, but that doesn’t mean you have to play along, especially not when the online option is available.

The traditional retail playbook for Black Friday featured a limited number of low-price “loss-leader” doorbuster deals that drew in the masses. Whether they were actually able to get hold of one of the few ultra-cheap items or not, these customers tended to shop for other merchandise while they were in the stores. Walmart has tried to eliminate some of the bait-and-switch involved in this tactic with a 1-Hour Guarantee, in which shoppers are assured they’ll get the doorbuster they want if they’re lined up at least one hour before the sale price is available. Yet overall, the strategy remains unchanged: Attract customers with what seem like amazing deals on select items, then cash in when these customers buy all sorts of things—some on sale, some at full price, and collectively very profitable.

With five days of deals, Walmart could have decided that its best doorbuster bargains would be available starting on Friday or Saturday—or any day other than Thanksgiving. But that’s not what the world’s biggest retailer has done. Like Target, Best Buy, and many others, Walmart is rolling out what seem to be its best deals on Thanksgiving itself, including a 50″ LED TV for $218 and kids’ “Frozen” pajamas for $4.50. There’s nothing stopping Walmart and other retailers from launching these kinds of sales on, say, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Instead, they’re going with Thanksgiving, and because many of the very best deals are available in-store only, consumers who want to take advantage can’t stay home with their families and make purchases in front of a screen of their choice.

On the other hand, the season’s best prices don’t necessarily pop up on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, and, with the exception of a relatively small number of in-store-only doorbusters, the vast majority of deals are indeed available for web shoppers. As a dealnews post pointed out:

Data from previous years has shown that up to 70% of in-store Black Friday deals were also available online for the same price — or less! Because online sites, namely Amazon, will price match even the hottest in-store offers from brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart, many feel pressure to release deals online as well.

The takeaway for consumers should be that it’s okay—more than okay—to stay home on Thanksgiving, and then to sleep in and stay home the following day as well. Yes, you might miss out on a select few deals by doing so. But hey, it’s really not that big of a deal.

 

MONEY

Mall Will Fine Stores if They Don’t Open on Thanksgiving

Walden Galleria, Buffalo, NY.
Walden Galleria, Buffalo, NY. David Knopf—Alamy

Stores at one mall in upstate New York are being strong-armed into opening for business by 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Tenant retailers that don't get with the program will be fined.

Every day, the list of retailers and shopping centers opening up for “Black Friday” sales on Thanksgiving Day itself is growing. Despite the fact that Thanksgiving store hours don’t necessarily boost holiday season sales so much as displace them from one day to another, more and more retailers apparently feel compelled to open for business on the national holiday—often during prime dinner hours but sometimes much, much earlier than that. Toys R Us, for instance, is matching Best Buy and J.C. Penney with a 5 p.m. opening time on Thanksgiving—an hour earlier than Target and Macy’s—while RadioShack just announced that more than 3,000 of its stores will open at the freakishly unnecessary hour of 8 a.m.

In virtually all cases, retailers explain their decisions to open on Thanksgiving by pointing back at consumers—saying that shopping time on the holiday and “flexible” store hours are what today’s consumers demand. After all, the stores have a choice to not open on Thanksgiving, and that’s just what a couple dozen retailers have said they’ll do, often proudly proclaiming that they’re staying closed to allow their employees to spend the day relaxing with their families.

Yet at least in one case, a group of stores doesn’t really have much choice in the matter. Walden Galleria, a mall near Buffalo, N.Y., decided that this year, it would open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. That’s six hours earlier than last year, but still, other malls in the area are also opening at the earlier time.

What’s bound to bring Walden Galleria plenty of grief, however, is the heavy-handed way it is prodding tenant retailers into opening at 6 p.m.: They’re being threatened with fines if they don’t go along with the plan. It’s unclear how much the fine would be for failing to open by the assigned hour, but apparently the amount is substantial enough to compel some reluctant shop managers into coming to work that day.

“We’re just stuck following the rules, because if we didn’t, we’d be fined by the mall and being a small company, that’s substantial to us. We can’t just pay that. We have to stay open,” Shaun Deutsch, the manager of the mall’s Tee Shirt University store said, according to the local Time Warner Cable News station. “It’s been a lot different this year trying to find people to work. It’s not been easy. I’ve been forced to schedule myself because I can’t find anyone else, really, to help me out.”

The Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Day Facebook page took note of Walden Galleria’s nasty tactics and immediately placed the mall on its “Naughty” List—reserved for shopping outlets opening on Thanksgiving.

MONEY online shopping

China Can Have Singles Day. We’ve Got Self-Gifting

Gift with tag that reads "To: Me. Love, Me"
Caspar Benson—Getty Images

Why would we need a day devoted to buying stuff for yourself when that's what many American consumers do year-round?

In China, Nov. 11 (a.k.a. 11/11) is celebrated as Singles Day. The event originated as Bachelor’s Day in the 1990s, an anti-Valentine’s Day when those without significant others were encouraged to celebrate their non-attached status by purchasing gifts for themselves. Lately it has evolved into an all-consumers-welcomed price-slashing online shop-a-thon in China—something akin to the Black Friday-Cyber Monday weekend rolled into one day—and it’s dominated by Alibaba, China’s largest e-retailer.

Alibaba reportedly surpassed $9 billion in sales in 24 hours. For the sake of comparison, online sales in the U.S. reached $1.7 billion on Cyber Monday last year, and Black Friday 2013 e-commerce spending hit around $1.2 billion. (Sales rung up inside physical stores are far, far higher than online sales on Black Friday, of course.)

Leading up to Singles Day, some e-retailers and their public relations pros were trying to push the idea that Americans should embrace the day with Singles Day purchases of their own. Why should China have all the fun, after all? And Alibaba CEO Jack Ma told CNBC today he expects the U.S. and the rest of the world to join in Singles Day celebrations (by buying stuff–a lot of stuff) by 2019 if not sooner. At last check, slightly more than half of those voting in a CNBC poll said they would, in fact, celebrate Singles Day, compared with 37% who said nope, not gonna go there.

A potential U.S. version of Singles Day comes with complications, however, starting with the fact that Nov. 11 is already celebrated as Veterans Day. It’s one thing for retailers and restaurants to bump up store traffic and promote their brands with free food deals and Veterans Day sales on furniture, electronics, and clothes. It’s an entirely different proposition to supplant the day devoted to thanking our nation’s vets and active-duty military for their selfless service with one squarely focused on overtly selfish consumerism.

It’ll be “very, very difficult,” for retailers to get American consumers on board with Singles Day, Randy Allen, a Johnson Graduate School of Management professor, said to Businessweek. “People look at holidays that we’ve got and say, ‘Where would you fit another one in? Do I really want to have to buy gifts for another holiday? Is this really something that’s important to me?’ ”

The calendar is already full of fake holidays, many of them devoted to treating oneself—Splurge Day anyone? What’s more, the fake marketing holidays reach an especially frenzied pace around this time of year, what with “events” such as National Regifting Day and Gift Card Weekend fighting for our attention. It’s also worth reminding folks that “genuine” shopping phenomena like Black Friday and Cyber Monday are totally made-up holidays too, created for the express purpose of getting people to buy stuff.

Above all, let’s not pretend that any of these days are exclusively about gift giving. Sure, the traditional idea of holiday shopping is that you’re shopping for other people. But that’s hardly the only reason people hit the malls on Black Friday and browse online on Cyber Monday, ready to pounce on deals.

The self-gifting trend—buying yourself a “gift” during holiday shopping outings—has been popular for years. A National Retail Federation survey indicates that 6 in 10 consumers will engage in self-gifting during the 2014 winter holidays, the same proportion of self-gifters as in 2012.

Shoppers say they will spend an average of $126.88 on themselves this year, down from an estimated $134.77 during the 2013 winter holidays. Perhaps the decline comes as a result of consumers realizing they should be more focused on others rather than themselves during the holidays. Then again, maybe the shift is due to shoppers being more likely to self-gift year-round and having less reason to splurge on themselves specifically during the peak November-December season. In any event, it hardly seems urgent that a nation with a majority of self-gifters needs an individual day specifically focused on self-gifting.

TIME Retail

Target Announces Earliest Ever Black Friday Opening

After Target Lowers Sales Forecast, Shares Plummet
The exterior of a Target store July, 18, 2006 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Latest in stores opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving

Target on Monday announced its earliest ever Black Friday sale with plans to open doors at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, in an aggressive bid to boost holiday sales after a year of lackluster earnings and store closures.

The big-box retailer joined a growing list of stores that have pushed their Black Friday openings from post-dinner to pre-dinner hours, including Macy’s, Kohl’s and Sears.

“We know our guests are pulled in a million different directions as the holidays get underway, so we’re helping them save time and money by offering more access to Black Friday deals,” Target said in a statement.

The movement has also triggered a backlash from labor advocates and from competitors that have vowed to keep stores closed during the Thanksgiving holiday, including Coscto, Home Depot and Nordstrom.

MONEY Shopping

To Get the Best Deals, Skip Black Friday

The early bird gets the worm.
The early bird gets the worm. Abdolhamid Ebrahimi—Getty Images

Sure, there will be some great deals on Black Friday. But overall, the data indicates that the holiday season's best prices are to be found before Black Friday even arrives.

Black Friday, a.k.a. the day after Thanksgiving, has traditionally been embraced as the kickoff of the holiday shopping season. But now that the season has been expanded dramatically by retailers, which began airing holiday ads in September, with Black Friday-type deals appearing as early as November 1 and plenty of stores open on Thanksgiving, the idea that Black Friday is the “start” of anything is silly. In fact, the idea that Black Friday is the season’s most important day for retailers is waning, and there’s a decent argument to be made that deal-seeking consumers should be done with their shopping by the time Black Friday rolls around.

The Wall Street Journal has examined retail pricing data from Adobe Systems, which shows that last year, the season’s biggest price drops took place the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the best overall prices were to be had not on Black Friday but the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. This year, Adobe predicts that the season’s lowest prices will pop up on Thanksgiving itself, with an average discount of 24%. The deal-hunting experts at dealnews also anticipate that Thanksgiving will beat Black Friday and come out overall as the best day for low prices.

This isn’t to say that Black Friday won’t have some phenomenal bargains. Best Buy, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and the rest of the field will surely roll out their share of doorbusters and huge one-day discounts. You’ll probably be able to scoop up off-brand TVs for a song, and the lucky few with the right combination of timing, endurance, and sharp elbows will assuredly snag other in-demand toys and electronics at deep discounts on Black Friday.

But they’ll have to battle traffic and crowds at the mall to do so. More importantly, based on the data presented above, it should be clear that Black Friday won’t necessarily have the best prices on everything. The pitfall shoppers should really try to avoid is heading to the mall on Black Friday for a few amazing doorbuster deals—and then sticking around and impulsively buying a bunch of other things at prices that are higher than you need to pay.

Combine that with the fact that the majority of sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the rest of the weekend are available online at the same prices, and that huge online sales are all but guaranteed for Cyber Monday at the start of the next week, and there’s considerable justification for staying away from the mall the entire time.

It may not be the most appealing idea, but there’s even some justification for getting a good portion of your holiday shopping done right now. The Wall Street Journal has been tracking prices of 10 top holiday gift items at Amazon and other major retailers, and what it found is that competitors are changing prices from day to day, sometimes dramatically so, and that some particularly good deals are appearing sooner than they normally do in the season. “This year retailers are trying to lengthen the season by dropping prices even earlier,” Tamara Gaffney, principal analyst of Adobe Digital Index, explained to the WSJ.

Dealnews agrees. “The truth is that the entire month of November will see blockbuster sales,” a post in late October explained. “So if you see the item you want at a price that suits your budget, by all means don’t wait to purchase that item later.”

Certainly, there’s no reason to feel like you must wait and physically go shopping on Black Friday.

TIME

5 Holiday Spending Mistakes That Can Kill Your Credit

handing money over
PM Images—Getty Images

This time of year can be brutal on your credit score

Now that the holiday shopping season is here (what, you didn’t know Halloween is the new Black Friday?), companies are pulling out all the stops to get us to spend. But watch out: There are some fairly common holiday spending behaviors that can do a number on your credit score. Here’s what the experts say you need to avoid.

Maxing out your cards. In truth, getting anywhere near your credit limit is a bad idea. “Your credit card utilization rate accounts for nearly a third of your credit score,” says Charles Tran, founder of CreditDonkey.com. This percentage of the credit you’ve used compared to how much you have available should be at 30% or less, and if you’re actively trying to raise your score, you should aim for as little as 10%.

This holds true even if you don’t revolve a balance, Tran says. “Even if you religiously pay off your credit card balance in full, the snapshot that the credit report captures might show a high balance, which has a negative impact,” he says.

Loading up a low-limit card. This is a corollary to not maxing out your cards because your credit is scored based on both your per-card as well as aggregate limits, explains John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com. “The closer your balance is to your credit limit, the lower your credit scores,” he says. If you put $1,000 on a card with a $1,500 limit, that looks much worse than putting the same amount on a card with a $15,000 limit, he says, even though the amount you’re spending and the total amount of credit you have available hasn’t changed.

Ulzheimer notes this is even more important if you plan to pay off your holiday purchases over a number of months, because this maximizes the amount of time you’ll have a harmfully high ratio on the card.

Opening a slew of store cards. Yes, we know — you’ll get 10% or 15% off, or maybe you’ll even be able to jump that insane line on Black Friday. Opening a bunch of store credit cards is still a bad idea. Every time you apply for credit, your score takes a (small) ding, so making your way through the mall filling out applications can cumulatively have a noticeable effect on your credit score.

Closing a bunch of cards. “It can… be damaging to panic and close credit cards because you’re afraid of overspending for the holidays,” warns Bankrate.com analyst Jeanine Skowronski. If you know you can’t handle the temptation, then go ahead and close cards, but this should be a last resort because it can hurt your score because closing a card takes that credit away from your utilization calculation, she says.

Similarly, a lot of people think they’ll sign up for a store card just to get the one-time discount, pay it off and then cancel it. This is really a double-whammy for your score because you ding your credit profile twice, once when you open the card and again when you close it.

Taking the deferred-interest bait. “One marketing strategy that can get folks in trouble is the delayed interest offer,” says Beverly Harzog, consumer credit expert and author of “Confessions of a Credit Junkie.” Not paying by the end of the grace period or even missing a payment could trigger retroactive interest on your purchase, often at sky-high retail card rates. “You’ll owe the interest that would have been charged during that time period,” Harzog says. Not only does this make that purchase ultimately more expensive, it also increases the likelihood you’ll need to revolve that debt, which hurts your utilization.

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