Financial Tip of the Week from the Iowa Bankers Association:
Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season has just begun! Shoppers now have less than 24 days to check items off their holiday shopping lists. Consumers can make the most of their time — and money — by following a few simple guidelines to avoid problems with holiday purchases.
Shopping online, by mail or by phone?
· Order from reputable companies. Confirm the company's physical address and phone number in case there is a problem. If you are not familiar with the company, you can check its reputation with the Better Business Bureau or the state attorney general where the company is located.
· Buy only from "secure" web sites that protect your financial information. To ensure your transaction is protected, look for a padlock at the bottom of your web browser window. A secure web site is also indicated when the web address begins with "https."
· Know what you're buying – and know the return policy. Be sure to read the product description carefully. Some name-brand items with prices that are "too good to be true" could be counterfeits. Research the company's return and exchange policies in case you are not satisfied with your purchase.
· Keep good records. Save detailed information about your purchase, including your order number, shipping costs, warranties, refund and return policies. You'll need this information in case there is a problem or if you need to return the merchandise.
· Keep shipping costs and delivery time in mind. Allow plenty of time for delivery. If you wait until the last minute, you could end up paying a hefty price for express or overnight shipping.
· Don't send cash. Paying by credit card offers you the most protection as a consumer.
Going to the store?
· Keep an on your purse or wallet. Carry a minimal amount of cash, and don't flash cash to others around you. Keep an eye on your credit or debit card during transactions, and be sure to return them to a safe place as quickly as possible. If your cards are lost or stolen, report the loss or theft immediately to your card issuer.
· Verify the store's return policy. Before you make a purchase, be sure you know the store's refund and return policies. Individual retailers may have different policies for different types of items -- for example, clearance merchandise may be on final sale, meaning no refunds or exchanges.
· Consider layaway – and get the policy in writing. Layaway purchase plans allow you to buy merchandise by making a deposit and then making payments over time. The retailer holds the merchandise until you have paid for the item in full. Avoid problems by verifying the policy before you make the purchase and getting a copy of the policy in writing.
· Save your receipts. You will need receipts for returns and exchanges. It's also a good idea to compare your credit and debit card receipts against your monthly bills and statements. If you find any errors or suspicious activity, be sure to notify your card issuer immediately.
These financial tips are provided by the Iowa Bankers Association (IBA), representing banks and thrifts in the state. For more information go to www.iowabankers.com.