Holiday season can be stressful for Washington consumers, especially if the prospect of buying gifts will add to an already burdensome debt load.
• Plan and Budget: Holiday gift giving doesn’t need to break the bank; after all, it’s the thought that counts. Determine what you can reasonably afford, create a budget and plan for gifts, and stick to it. Keep in mind that purchases on credit will need to be repaid at some point in the future.
• Track your Spending: Keep tabs on how much you spend to help stay within the guidelines of your “holiday budget.”
• Protect your Identity: Be careful about giving personal information including a credit or debit card number over the phone and online. Monitor your accounts and immediately report any suspicious or unauthorized purchases to your bank or credit card company. Consumers should monitor their credit and are entitled to a free credit report each year at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you believe your identity has been stolen, contact your local police department.
• Communicate with Creditors: Having trouble making payments on an existing debt? Contact the creditor to discuss alternative payment arrangements. It won’t eliminate your debt but it can make things more manageable.
Communication is particularly important if you are behind in payments to a creditor (e.g., credit card, loan, mortgage, medical) to avoid having the debt appear on credit reports.
• Communicate with the Debt Collector: In the event you hear from a debt collector, avoiding a letter or call won’t make the debt go away. The reason for the contact cannot be resolved without the ability to communicate; whether it’s to pay an owed debt, verify an alleged debt or confirm that the debt collector has reached the wrong person.
• Know your Rights: Consumers have important rights when contacted by a creditor or debt collector. For more information about consumer rights in debt collection or to ask questions, visit www.askdoctordebt.org.