Achieve Your Money Goals in 2015 With These Tips

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If you’re a New Year’s resolution maker – the time has arrived. As 2015 rolls closer and closer into view, you may be thinking about dropping the extra weight that you resolve to wave goodbye to every year. Weight loss, eating better, quitting smoking and generally getting into better physical health are popular goals that many people set for themselves year after year, only to end up making similar promises the following January without making much (or any) progress. Getting physically healthy is so important that it should become a year-round goal for everyone.

Another area that deserves some serious commitment is financial health. It may be true that money can’t buy happiness, but it definitely buys peace of mind. And as far as we’re concerned, happiness and peace of mind go hand in hand.

Start this new year out with the determination and positive mindset necessary to commit to getting fit financially. Try some (or all) of these tips to help you achieve the monetary triumph you deserve.

  1. Ba-ba-ba-Budget!  Ok, ok, we know you’ve heard this one a million times before, but there’s a reason for that. Much like avoiding the scale because you’re too afraid of what it will say, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and run the numbers. How else will you know how much is really coming in and going out? Paying off debt, putting money aside for retirement, saving for your kids’ education – all of these are impossible if you don’t have a realistic budget in place.
  2. Check yourself.  Once a year, be sure to take a detailed look at your credit report to check for any mistakes or surprises. Since your credit score affects so many different parts of your life, (getting a loan, renting an apartment, landing a job, approval for insurance, etc) it’s imperative that you stay aware of your score. Checking your score every year in early January will turn it into a very valuable habit.
  3. Buy a darn coffee pot. If coffee isn’t your thing, figure out a way to give up, or at least significantly modify, your most expensive habit. Millions of Americans spend $4-$5 every day on a beverage that they could be making at home for around 20 CENTS. By taking a closer look at your daily expenditures, you’ll definitely be able to find something you can cut out. By putting that $5 a day into a savings account, you could rack up nearly $2,000 by New Year’s Day 2016.
  4. Get EXTREME.  Or maybe not extreme, but at least familiar. With couponing, that is. We’re not talking about acquiring a stockpile that takes over an entire room of your house – usually filled with things like condiments, shaving gel and toothpaste. That’s not useful to anyone! However, learning to shop strategically can save you 50% or more on your grocery bill! Never pay full price without checking for coupons, promo codes, or sales ever again.
  5. Be Mindful. We wholly support being mindful in every aspect of your life, and making mindful donations can be a win/win situation for everyone involved. Research charities before donating in order to make informed decisions about where your money will go. If an organization qualifies, your donation may be tax deductible.

Finally, if your financial situation is in dire straits, you may need to seek professional help from a financial advisor or an attorney experienced in debt negotiation, loan modifications and/or bankruptcy.

Do you have a financial improvement plan for 2015? Share your tips with us in the comments!

 

Image credit: Clement127

Got Gift Cards? Spend them Wisely This Year

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Gift cards truly are the gift that keeps on giving. More gift cards were purchased this year than ever before – nearly $32 billion worth! When surveyed, 80% of shoppers had plans to buy and give gift cards this holiday season.

So, chances are good that you’re going to be on the receiving end of at least one of these little beauties.

You know that giddy feeling of suddenly having a bunch of “money” to spend in your favorite store(s). Gift cards give you the freedom to basically shop for your own Christmas gifts – and they’re slightly less tacky than giving cash, so more people are reaching for them. Consumers report feeling better about gifting someone with a gift card than with something totally useless.

Believe it or not, retailers absolutely LOVE selling gift cards, for several reasons. Oftentimes, the recipient forgets about the card altogether. Some people receive cards for stores that are simply too far away from their homes. Some gift cards have “inactivity fees” that gradually lower the card’s value over time. Unfortunately, some gift cards are lost or even stolen. All of these variables add up to bigger profits for retailers.

This year, if you’re the recipient of one or more gift cards, there are some things you can do to use your it wisely. First of all, make sure you register it as soon as you can. This will protect the balance if you do happen to lose it or it becomes stolen. If your gift card is stolen, report the theft directly to the issuer right away. If you’re lucky, they may replace the card. Sometimes this requires a small replacement fee.

Always treat a gift card just like cash money. Your best bet is to use them sooner rather than later so that you don’t end up losing them or forgetting about them.

What is an e-gift card?

Many retailers are now offering electronic gift cards. These are becoming more popular because they can be purchased online, allowing consumers to do even more of their holiday shopping from the comfort of their own homes. An electronic gift card works just like the plastic kind – the only difference being that they’ll be emailed and printed rather than purchased in a brick and mortar establishment.

E-gift cards can be used online or in stores, and they are much harder to lose since they will be sitting in your email inbox rather than – wait, where did you put that thing, again?

Over a billion dollars worth of gift cards go unused every single year. That’s a lot of money that’s just going straight back into retailers’ bank accounts. Just as you wouldn’t keep a fifty dollar bill in your wallet without ever spending it, don’t let your gift cards go to waste either. Happy shopping!

Image Credit: Kool Cats Photography

Can My House be Sold at Sheriff’s Sale in the Middle of Winter?

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If you’ve failed to make your mortgage payment  (even for one month) – you should know that your bank or lender can start the foreclosure process at any time. Typically, they won’t file for foreclosure unless you have missed at least 3 payments, but each lender is different.

Typically, though, after your first missed mortgage payment, you’ve probably got around 3 months until the foreclosure process starts. Luckily, New Jersey is a judicious foreclosure state, which means that all of our foreclosures go through the court system. There are many homes in foreclosure at the present, creating a substantial backlog, and giving you (most likely) more time to find a suitable place to live when the foreclosure is complete.

Your bank or lender is required by law to send you official notice of their intent to foreclose, and they must do so at least 30 days before they file a Foreclosure Complaint with the court. A Complaint is a lawsuit that someone is initiating against you. This particular lawsuit is brought against you when you fail to pay back the money you borrowed for your home.

The court will send you a copy of the Complaint when it is filed. You may choose to do nothing, if you are in agreement with the lender foreclosing on your property. You can also submit an Answer to the Complaint that is not contesting the foreclosure. The court system will then move your foreclosure case to the administrative processing part of foreclosures in New Jersey. Here, a judge will closely examine all of your foreclosure paperwork to ensure that everything is included and is as it should be. If so, the case will be decided in the favor of your lender.

Will my lender kick me out of my home in the middle of winter?

The short answer to that is: if your house has been properly foreclosed upon and the court has entered a judgement giving your lender the rights to your home, they can sell the property whenever they want.

There are some lenders who, in order to avoid bad press, will wait until after the December holidays to start proceedings for a Sheriff’s Sale, especially if there are children in your family. Additionally, they must advertise the Sheriff’s Sale for a month (4 weeks) in at least one newspaper that is local to your home.

Most lenders today are dealing with a multitude of foreclosures at any given time, which means they probably won’t schedule the sale of your home immediately, allowing you an even longer period of time to find a place to live.

New Jersey has the unfortunate ‘honor’ of having the 2nd highest number of foreclosures in the U.S., second only to New York. Because of the struggling economy in recent years, there was a housing crisis because so many people could no longer afford to pay their mortgages. Due to this, even years later, New Jersey’s foreclosure courts are are still digging themselves out from under all of the foreclosures.

That means, that while nothing is certain, you’ll probably have a significant amount of time from the last mortgage payment you make and when you’ll actually have to vacate your home. It could potentially be in any season of the year when it finally happens, though, so you should prepare yourself and secure a new place to live (or someone to stay with) way ahead of schedule. You can also fight to stay in your home if your circumstances change for the better. In that case, you should contact an attorney experienced in foreclosure defense immediately.

Image credit: zenjazzygeek

Taking a Page out of Michael Vick’s Playbook: “Paying Off Your Debt”

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Just about everyone knows that Michael Vick was involved in a dog-fighting ring that got him sent to prison for nearly 2 years. No one thinks that is something to aspire to, and we’re definitely NOT excusing his involvement in such an awful and heinous crime.

However, as John Wooden said – “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.”

Before he went to prison, Vick decided to make a change by filing for bankruptcy. At that time, almost $18 million in debt, he chose to file for bankruptcy protection before the problem got any worse. How did such a highly paid professional football player end up with so much debt? The answer is quite simple really, and it isn’t that different from the reasons that many working class people get in over their heads.

Michael Vick lived a lavish lifestyle that far exceeded even his eye-popping salary. In addition to that, he owed a decent chunk of money to his attorneys, both regarding child support matters and his civil case, for which he went to prison. He also suffered from years of really bad financial planning. All of this together snowballed into millions of dollars of unpaid debt.

Filing for bankruptcy before he went to prison was likely the first smart decision Michael Vick had made in years. Rather than let the interest accrue on the millions he owed to a variety of creditors, he decided once and for all to take his money matters into his own hands.

By filing for bankruptcy, he protected himself from getting out of prison (where his only income would be 12 cents an hour for mopping the floors) only to face an even higher mountain of debt due to late charges and interest rates.

Many have said that perhaps the wisest decision for Vick would have been to file for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would have wiped out most of his debts. This would have essentially allowed him a “fresh start” after his prison sentence ended.

Instead, he decided that he wanted to right at least some of the wrongs that he had done by filing for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The main difference between a Chapter 7 and a Chapter 11 bankruptcy is that a Chapter 11 does not forgive debt. By choosing a Chapter 11 filing, Vick made the conscious choice to work with his creditors to organize payment plans that would ultimately allow him to pay back the money that was owed.

After being released from prison in 2009, he began playing football for the Philadelphia Eagles. Between the years of 2010 – 2014, he drastically changed his lifestyle and lived on only a small percentage of the millions that he earned playing football. The rest of his salary went toward paying back his debts over time. To date, has been able to pay back roughly 85% of all the money he owed.

As of January 1, 2015, Vick will no longer be required to maintain the restrictive lifestyle that he has been living for the past five years, however he now says he will no longer spend money frivolously like he did in the past. One can only hope that he truly has learned his lesson.

Your take away from this story? It’s never too late to do the right thing. Start now! Help is available to give your financial story a happy ending too. Take the first step today.

 Photo credits: Cesar Martins, BK

My Bank Won’t Accept a Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure

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Unfortunately, banks and lenders are under no obligation to accept a deed in lieu of foreclosure application from you, or from anyone, for that matter. While it may seem like a much more attractive alternative than foreclosure for you, deeds in lieu are not popular among most lenders.

What is a deed in lieu of foreclosure?

Filing for a deed in lieu of foreclosure (also referred to as a DIL) is an option for a distressed homeowner who is either having trouble paying his monthly mortgage payment or is unable to do so at all due to a change in life circumstance. A DIL is a process in which the homeowner essentially gives his home to the bank and walks away.

Since foreclosure is such a negative event to have listed on a credit report, many people desperately try to avoid foreclosure at all costs. A foreclosure happens when the bank or lender essentially puts your home up for sale if you have not been making payments. You must vacate the home and find another place to live. Even worse news regarding foreclosure is that afterwards, the lender can still sue you for what is known as a “deficiency judgment.”

If the bank secures a deficiency judgment, the homeowner will then owe the bank the difference between what was still owed on the mortgage and what the bank was able to sell it for in a foreclosure sale. So, while you will have already lost your home and your credit score will be marred, you will also have the possibility of still owing money to the bank. All of these reasons combined are why many people are choosing to apply for a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

A deed in lieu of foreclosure (DIL) occurs when the lender agrees to accept ownership of your home without pursuing foreclosure or deficiency judgments. It is important that you get a detailed agreement in writing during your deed in lieu process, so that you are assured that there will be forgiveness of any money you may still owe on the mortgage, along with any deficiency between what is still owed and what the home eventually sells for.

Lenders are hesitant to accept deed in lieu applications. The main reason for this is that they are in the money business, not the property business. Taking care of a home that they now essentially own (via a deed in lieu of foreclosure) means there will be further costs in order to maintain the home, such as homeowners fees, taxes and general upkeep of the home’s exterior and interior until it can be sold.

In order to increase the chances of your deed in lieu application being approved by your bank, you’ll have to be able to prove that you are indeed suffering from significant financial hardship. When a lender sees that you are at least a month behind on your mortgage payments, they are more inclined to accept your proposal.

Additionally, property with liens on their title are not attractive to lenders for a deed in lieu. It’s also extremely important that all of your DIL application paperwork is filled out completely and correctly.

Deeds in lieu of foreclosure do appear on your credit report and will cause an impact on your credit score, though it will be much less of an impact than a foreclosure. Alternatives to filing for a DIL include applying for a loan modification and applying for federal assistance through the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Both of these options will avoid any negative effects on your credit report or credit score.

To learn more about the specifics behind filing for a deed in lieu of foreclosure or applying for a loan modification to make your payments more affordable, contact Veitengruber Law. We have achieved DILs for many clients before you, and we would love nothing more than to help you get the best result possible as well.

 

Photo credit: Images Money (flickr)

Friday Five: Personal Finance Books Worth Reading

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If you’ve ever strolled down the ‘Self-Help’ section of any bookstore, or scrolled through an Amazon book search, you were probably overwhelmed by all of the titles just begging to be read. Here, we’ve hand-picked 5 critically acclaimed works that will help you take the steps necessary to get your financial life in order.

  1.  Small Move, Big Change: Using Micro-Resolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently; Caroline Arnold
    This book assists you in taking long-reaching goals and turning them into small, manageable changes that can ultimately lead to a huge shift in your life, both in the present and in the future. By using “micro-resolutions,” you reward yourself instantly, which creates new habits that will ultimately change how you think and act regarding money, food, productivity and organization.
  2. The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition; Dave Ramsey
    “Dave Ramsey is America’s trusted voice on money and business.”¹ The Total Money Makeover helps you create a plan to get out of debt in 7 easy steps. It also teaches you how to build up that nest egg you’ve been wishing you had. The success stories (included in this book) alone ensure that this read will really grab your attention, regardless of your age, job status, or income level.
  3. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money that the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!; Richard Kiyosaki
    This book held a top spot on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 6 years. Kiyosaki grew up with a very educated, yet financially unstable father. Conversely, the father of his best friend dropped out of school in 8th grade only to become a multimillionaire. Throughout his childhood and young adulthood, Kiyosaki learned that “the poor and middle class work for money,” but “the rich have money work for them.” He internalized this message and was retired by the age of 47. In Rich Dad Poor Dad, he teaches you a type of financial literacy that goes against conventional wisdom.
  4. Get Rich Carefully; Jim Cramer
    There are no get-rich-quick schemes that actually work, and Jim Cramer knows it. In Get Rich Carefully, you’ll learn how to plan for long-lasting wealth using a low risk plan. The “personal finance book of 2013,” is a very readable guide that will show you how to turn your savings into long-lasting wealth.
  5. Your Money or Your Life: Nine Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence (Revised Edition); Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez
    This international bestseller was originally written in 1992 and has been printed in 11 languages. It has been dubbed “the seminal guide to the new morality of personal money management” by the Los Angeles Times. Now, it’s been updated for the new millennium and our wavering economy. You’ll learn how to: get yourself out of debt and start saving, live better for less money, deal with any inner struggles regarding your values and lifestyle, live green while spending less, and ultimately take charge of your money. You’ll start living rather than just “making a living.”

When deciding which book(s) to use as financial guides, it’s important to remember that just about anybody can write a book these days. We’ve recommended the above 5 to you because they’ve been proven successful, and are written by actual finance/money experts. If you have a book you’d like to recommend to our readers and clients, please leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Image credit: R Cocks

¹Editorial Review; Amazon.com

Wisdom Wednesday: How to Avoid Identity Theft

 

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In recent years, identity theft has become a much more common problem than it used to be. It is a very serious crime, and the perpetrator(s) can serve jail time if caught. Offenders who commit aggravated identity theft (those who use another person’s identity without legal permission and then commit a felony act) will get an extra two years tacked on to their prison sentence automatically. Aggravated identity thieves cannot receive probation.

The point being: identity theft is not a fun little game for either the perpetrator or the victim. The repercussions can be severe, damaging, and highly stress-inducing for the victim. Probably the most important thing to know about identity theft is that it can happen to literally anyone.

What is Identity Theft, Anyway?

Identity theft happens when either a person you know or a stranger somehow accesses your private information without you knowing about it. Once the thief has accessed your personal information (bank account number, credit card number, Social Security benefits information, etc), s/he will act as you in order to take possession of your money, resources or benefits.

This means that your bank account may be drained, your credit card could be charged for multiple expensive purchases,  your Social Security or other benefits may be stolen, and more. Since the perpetrator will be acting as you during these offenses – your name, reputation, achievements and credit score will all be put at risk.

If the perpetrator is experienced, s/he may be undetectable or untraceable, leaving you to clean up the mess that was made. Your finances can potentially be ruined, as can your reputation.

Can I Protect Myself Against Identity Thieves?

The answer to that is a complicated “Yes.” Protecting yourself against identity theft is possible, but you must be diligent. The most important first step in protecting yourself is to recognize the behaviors you engage in every day that put you at risk of having your personal information stolen and misused. Being aware of how and when thieves get ahold of your information will enable you to use more caution during certain situations.

Some of these behaviors include: online shopping, sharing your personal information with staff members at a place of business or office, using a cell phone or laptop with a public wireless connection, tossing the wrong things (pre-approved credit cards or other mail that contains personal info) into your trash can and using your debit card to withdraw money from an ATM.

During all of those activities, your personal information isn’t secure. However, there are things you can do to make sure your information is as protected as possible.

If you use the internet as your own personal shopping mall (and who doesn’t, these days?), make sure all of your account passwords are complex and different. Make it your practice to shop only on websites that begin with https:// – the added -s means they are a secure site. Never use the internet to shop, pay bills, or do any banking when you’re in a public place using an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Any number of people will likely be sharing that public Wi-Fi connection, which means that they can easily “see” any personal information that you may be using.

Never give out personal information over the phone or via email. In fact, you should only provide someone with your Social Security number if absolutely necessary, and ideally only face-to-face. If you receive mail that contains personal info – shred it before tossing it in the bin. Delete any emails that request your personal info.

In order to maintain the safety of your personal information, make it your practice to check your bank and other account statements carefully and regularly. If you see any charges that you didn’t personally make, you will know that your information has been wrongfully accessed, and you’ll need to take immediate action.

If you have been a victim of identity theft and a creditor is attempting to collect a debt from you that was incurred by an identity thief, you may need to contact an attorney to ensure that you will have an excellent defense against any and all debts that were not made by you personally.

Image credit: Don Hankins

Friday Five: We Can Do That!

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We are simply amazed by how many people we’re able to help here at Veitengruber Law. It’s the thing that drives us, because helping others is what we’re all about. Today, we want to tell you about five things we do that could possibly be making your life easier, happier, or just plain better. Did you know that we can help you with:

  1. Raising your credit score This falls at number one because it’s SO important to have a good credit score! It’s sort of like using building blocks: if you don’t have a solid first layer, you will have a really tough time creating any kind of solid structure. With a lower credit score, you’ll have trouble: renting or buying a home, purchasing a car, getting insured, and possibly even being hired for a job. We have the skills needed to put you on a plan that will raise your credit score significantly within six months to a year!
  2. Paying a lower mortgage payment each month – The biggest payment many of us have every month is our mortgage payment. This can quickly drive many people to foreclosure as rising costs of living escalate. Luckily, it doesn’t have to come to that. Veitengruber Law knows how to negotiate with lenders in order to change the terms of your mortgage agreement.  If you’ve had a change in your life that has caused you to have difficulty paying your current mortgage (job loss, divorce, decreased home values) – we can get your payment down to an affordable number.
  3. Filing for bankruptcy – If numbers 1 and 2 above just aren’t enough to get you above water, have no fear. In fact, bankruptcy is our original specialty, and we’ve had many, many hours of experience helping clients through to the other side of debt. We’ll help you determine whether you’d qualify for a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, and we’ll take you all the way through to a fresh financial future.
  4. Getting your home out of foreclosure – If you’re tiptoeing closer and closer to losing your home to foreclosure, or if you’re already receiving notices – we are the foreclosure defense team that you need. If keeping your home is important to you (while making your payments more affordable at the same time), we know exactly what to do! We have several tried-and-true foreclosure defense approaches that really WORK. Our firm has saved countless families from losing their homes to a foreclosure sale.
  5. Planning your Last Will and Testament – In order to ensure that your loved ones don’t have to face arguments over medical, financial or legal details after your passing, it is crucial that you set up a plan for them to follow now, while you are still able. Veitengruber Law will give you a personal and customized estate planning process depending on your specific needs, wants, assets and more.

Hopefully, today’s Friday Five has helped you to understand some of the areas where our firm holds a great deal of expertise and experience. For more information about any of the above areas, or to set up your free consultation meeting, give us a call anytime. If you feel more comfortable sending us a message, simply click here. We look forward to talking with you and, most of all, HELPING YOU move toward a healthier financial future!

 Image Credit: W. Shein

Know Your Rights: When Debt Collectors Go too Far

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If you’re being hounded by an unstoppable “debt collector” who’ll seemingly go to great lengths in order to get your money, you need to be aware of your rights as an American consumer.

It’s been a hot topic in the news recently in many states across the nation. Too many people are being tricked, bullied and threatened by these so-called debt collectors pretending to be law enforcement, detectives or investigators working on the case of money that you either owe, stole, or fraudulently borrowed.

As a rule, debt collectors are hired by a third party to whom you legally owe money. Unfortunately, many debt collection firms today are practicing unscrupulous methods in order to get you to pay up, even when you don’t legally owe a cent. And a lot of them are stepping way over the line of legality.

Frequently, these types of “debt collectors” are actually scam artists attempting to trick people out of their money. There are several different schemes running at the moment nationwide that you should be aware of in order to protect yourself.

Sometimes, the debt collectors in question call borrowers and accuse them of committing a crime, such as check fraud or theft by deception. They will demand immediate payment, and if you do not comply, they will threaten with a warrant for your arrest. You should in no way respond to these threats, and if the harassment becomes chronic, you may need to contact an attorney to enforce your rights.

Thankfully, in 2015, new regulations are set to take effect in order to prevent these characters from performing such deceptive and aggressive actions against borrowers. The tough new regulations will help protect consumers (who are already struggling financially) from being taken advantage of and losing money that they really can’t afford to give up.

So far in 2014, there have been over 20,000 complaints about harassing debt collectors just in the state of New York alone.

As a borrower/consumer, be aware that debt collectors/scam artists will say almost anything in order to get your money, even if the statute of limitations on your debt has been reached. They may even demand that you pay money on a debt that you have already paid in full, citing interest that you never paid or other lies to encourage you to open your checkbook. Lastly, they may invent a debt that you supposedly owe, which never even existed.

Unfortunately, the debt collection industry has been unregulated for far too long and the unscrupulous actions of members of the industry have finally gone too far. Lawmakers are taking notice and taking action.

The new rules will help those thousands of people in New York, and eventually across the country, who have been working hard to clear their debts in order to raise their credit scores and get back on track financially.

The new regulations imposed upon the debt collection industry will require debt collectors to provide consumers with specific information about the debt being collected. For example, they will be required to disclose whether or not a debt has reached its expiration date. Debt collectors will also have to give significant credence to any dispute given by the consumer in question regarding the debt owed.

Additionally, debt collectors will henceforth be required to provide debtors with a detailed written agreement confirming any debt settlement agreement that has been reached. Consumers will also be given a copy of this written agreement, and they will also receive written confirmation once the debt has been paid in full.

Image Credit: Patrick Hoesly

How-to Tuesday: Affordable Holiday Shopping

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This time of year, it is so easy to be overcome with the excitement of the upcoming holidays that you relax your spending rules. With all of the “special deals” offered up on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and more – many people end up spending a lot more money than they actually have in their bank accounts.

When January rolls around, all of that excessive purchasing will result in a gigantic spend hangover when the credit card bills start becoming due. Without even realizing it, you may easily spend so much money around the holidays that you’ll be paying it down until NEXT December (or even longer)!

Luckily, there are ways to gain control of your holiday spending before it’s too late.

Ideally, you’d only spend money that you actually have available to you in your bank account. Hopefully, you started setting aside money each month roughly a year ago that leaves you with a nice holiday budget, making credit card use unnecessary, or at least minimal.

However, it is actually okay to use your credit cards for holiday shopping – with a huge qualifier, though. You must keep track of exactly how much money you are charging and have a plan to be able to pay it off within several months of the new year.

Make a holiday shopping list that designates a certain dollar amount for each person on your list and don’t go over that amount, even by five dollars.

Avoid signing up for store credit cards because, even though they lure you in with 10 to 20% off your first purchase, afterward, you’ll get slammed with high percentage rates. If you aren’t able to pay off your purchase right away, the high interest rates can add up quickly, making your initial savings null and void.

Be sure that you shop around before making any purchases. The age of the Internet has brought us the ability to compare prices easily without tromping store to store. Don’t forget about Amazon! If you’ve signed up for an Amazon prime account, you can easily get your money’s worth with FREE shipping on all prime-eligible items.

Try to avoid impulse buys as much as possible. Do this by sticking to the list you created, with specific gifts listed for each person on your list. Shopping during the holidays without a plan is very dangerous and can put a huge dent in your wallet in no time.

Consider pooling your money with another person in order to get a more expensive gift for someone on your list. This is a great way to get someone that item they’ve been coveting without kicking yourself next month when the bill rolls in.

Most of all, keep in mind at all times that it’s much more important to spend quality time with your loved ones than it is to give, give, give. None of your close friends or family would want you to go into debt in order to provide them with an over-the-top holiday gift! Make this holiday season one during which you can confidently say that you shopped wisely. You’ll thank yourself in the new year.

Image credit: David Porter