Credit card caution is urged

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COLUMBIA --- Becki Gazda is the type of holiday shopper Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom likes to see.

Even with seven nieces and nephews to buy presents for, Ms. Gazda, a University of South Carolina graduate student, never reaches for plastic to pay for the gifts.

"Savings," she said. "I don't even have a credit card."

Said friend Ryan Newsom, 24: "Some of us don't have the luxury of savings."

But they could, Mr. Eckstrom said, just by putting away the credit cards.

The average credit card debt per American household is $8,000.

Calculating an 18-percent interest rate on that shows that Americans are paying $1,400 annually on credit card interest, he said.

"If these dollars were saved and invested, it would not be long before there was some very serious wealth accumulation," Mr. Eckstrom said. "Most people think wealth accumulation is beyond their reach."

He's hoping the promise of more money next year will keep people from charging up the credit cards this month.

Shoppers often overdo it and pay the price, literally, come January, said Carri Grube Lybarker, a staff attorney with the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs who specializes in credit issues.

Early in the year, Ms. Grube Lybarker said she always sees an increased number of people seeking help to get out of debt.

She urges people to be proactive: avoiding credit cards or at least shopping with only one card that has the lowest interest rate.

"People don't make budgets before they go out and (then they) overspend for the holiday season," she said.

Shoppers who do overdo it this December can at least contact the department afterward to find who to turn to for help, she said.

The department can be reached at (800) 922-1594 or at www.scconsumer.gov.

BEWARE OF GIFT CARDS


Comptroller Richard Eckstrom says consumers lose nearly $8 billion annually through gift cards after misplacing them, not using them or through hidden feeds. The fine print might include:


- A fee to be paid when the card is purchased;


- A fee to be paid if the card is lost or stolen;


- A monthly maintenance fee to be charged on inactive cards;


- A fee to be charged to check a card's remaining balance; or


- A time limit on the card's validity.


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