Be a smart shopper this holiday shopping season

Friday, November 26 is Black Friday…and Cyber Monday is just days away! With the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season upon us, make the most of your time — and money — by following a few simple guidelines to avoid problems with holiday purchases.

Shop at Home First

Your local businesses work hard to provide goods and services that you need every day of the year – and especially when you’re short on time! Check with local businesses first to see how they can help you with your holiday shopping. After all, those businesses are the ones that support local schools, hospitals, churches and other fundraisers that keep dollars flowing in our community. When was the last time one of the Mega Stores advertised in the school athletic program?

If you must shop out of town…

  • Order from reputable companies. 
  • Buy only from “secure” websites that protect your financial information. Be sure that your transaction is protected. Look for a padlock at the bottom of your web browser window. A secure website 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. Think about shipping costs and delivery times when comparing prices with a local retail store. You might decide that a lower price is more costly in the end if the gift doesn’t arrive in time.
  • 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 Iowa State Bank in partnership with the Iowa Bankers Association (IBA).

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