** FILE ** Signs for American Express, Master Card and Visa credit cards are shown on a New York store's door on in this July 23, 2007 file photo. Americans are falling behind on their credit card payments at an alarming rate, sending delinquencies and defaults surging by double-digit percentages in the last year and prompting warnings of worse to come. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file)
TOPEKA -- Holiday season can be stressful for Kansas consumers, especially if the prospect of buying gifts will add to an already burdensome debt load.
(For Helpful Consumer Personal Finance Information, Visit www.AskDoctorDebt.org.)
The Kansas Collectors Association offers the following personal finance tips for consumers this holiday season. "Careful planning and active communication are important tools to effectively managing personal finances, particularly if a consumer is struggling to make payments on their current debt obligations or being contacted by a debt collector," said KCA President Chris Coffman.
* 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: If you hear from a debt collector, avoiding a letter or call won't make the debt disappear. 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.
* Consumers have Rights: Consumers deserve to be treated respectfully and have rights under federal and state law. For more information about consumer rights in debt collection or to ask questions, visit www.askdoctordebt.org. Created by the ACA International Education Foundation, it's a free resource that does not require a log-in or sharing of personal information and is available in English and Spanish.