Make us your home page

Minimize damage done with holiday shopping

Even if we were careful shoppers during the holidays, we easily could have put a dent or two in our credit score. Opening too many new accounts, paying bills late … lots of December damage can occur.

Here is some advice on how to minimize those problems from Shon Dellinger, vice president of, the consumer site for the Fair Isaac Corp., which created the well-known FICO credit scoring system in 1956:

During the holidays, falling behind on bills is more likely than usual for many people. How do late payments hurt your credit score?

Paying your bills on time represents 35 percent of your FICO score. It's a very significant portion. If it's a first offense (paying late), it's not necessarily terribly bad. But if you're a repeat offender … (with) continual late payments across many cards, that's the worst-case scenario. A late payment will stay on your credit file for seven years.

Holiday shoppers often get invited to open a store credit card, in exchange for an instant 15 to 20 percent off their purchase. Those offers can be pretty tempting. Good or bad idea?

Be careful to resist any short-term savings. Don't get more cards than you need. Be aware of what interest rates are carried and what time frame you'd have to pay off the new card. … You can end up carrying higher (interest) charges than the discount you receive on a purchase.

What's the ideal credit score these days? Has the economy dragged down consumers' credit scores?

Right now, anything over 750 is good. We have people who get anywhere from 300 to 850. … There certainly has been some shift downward in scores due to the overall economic conditions.

The financial landscape for consumers has undergone so much upheaval this year, from changing credit card laws to tightened loans from banks and lenders. What's ahead?

We hear the consumer frustration with lenders right now. There needs to be more transparency so consumers understand how lenders view them. If you know your FICO score, you can take steps to manage it and get access to the best rates that your lender offers.

When it comes to credit scores, what kind of scams do you warn consumers about?

No. 1: Make sure you understand what you're buying. Sometimes those "free" offers are really a subscription to a (credit) monitoring product.

So many frustrated consumers are angry with their credit card companies for upping rates and changing terms. Many are canceling their cards. Is that wise?

The danger is that you could be canceling part of your credit history, which could hurt your credit score. … When you cancel a card, it reduces the amount of your available credit overall but doesn't change your outstanding balances on other cards. The result can be a higher "utilization rate" (the proportion of available credit you're using), which could hurt your score. Whatever cards you have, be responsible about keeping outstanding balances low and paying your bills on time.

What's your message to struggling consumers saddled with a crummy credit score?

Don't be ashamed of it. Get back in credit shape. … It'll save you money in the future.

Looking ahead, any bright spots from this recession?

Frugal has become cool. Being cost-conscious and budget-conscious is more acceptable. It'll be very interesting to see if those behaviors persist (in) the economic recovery.

Any year-end advice for consumers?

Use credit only when you need it. Pay your bills on time. And resist those short-term (credit card) "savings" offers.

Editor's Note: By law, you're entitled to a free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These reports show your bill-paying history as reported by your creditors. To request free credit reports, go to or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.

Minimize damage done with holiday shopping 12/26/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 26, 2009 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Sacramento Bee.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jeff Bezos tops Bill Gates as world's richest person — for now


    A surge in Inc. shares Thursday morning in advance of the online retailer's earnings report has propelled founder Jeff Bezos past Bill Gates as the world's richest person, according to a Bloomberg report.

    Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, discusses his Blue Origin reusable rocket project in Colorado Springs in April. A bump in the price of Amazon shares in July of 2017 was enough to move  Bezos above Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, who has topped Forbes' billionaires list 18 out of the last 23 years. 
(Nick Cote | The New York Times]
  2. Verizon is back: Unlimited data is boosting subscriptions


    After posting surprising losses among cellphone subscribers earlier this year, Verizon is back. The wireless carrier said Thursday that it has added 358,000 phone subscribers over the past several months, blowing analyst expectations out of the water and showing that its unlimited data plans are helping to keep …

    Verizon said Thursday that it has added 358,000 phone subscribers over the past several months, blowing analyst expectations out of the water and showing that its unlimited data plans are helping to keep customers loyal.
(Associated Press]
  3. Florida's first walk-in clinics for medical marijuana are opening in Tampa Bay


    TAMPA — Inside a nondescript white-washed office building across from St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa is one of the state's first walk-in clinics for patients seeking medical marijuana.

    Patient Julie DiPietrantonio, 67, of St. Petersburg, is examined by Dr. Howard Riker of Tetra Health Care. DiPietrantonio suffers from chronic pain caused by spinal stenosis, degenerative arthritis, and sacroiliitis. She is looking for relief by using medical marijuana. 
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Allegiant Air reports $400 million in revenue for second quarter


    Allegiant Air's parent company, Allegiant Travel Co., reported just over $400 million in revenue for the year's second quarter, up 16 percent from last year.

    Allegiant Air CEO Maurice J. Gallagher Jr. | [Courtesy of Tony Jannus Aviation Society]
  5. As Dow hits new high, Raymond James Financial reports record financial gains


    On the same day that the Dow closed at new highs, investment firm Raymond James Financial reported record revenues and earnings for its fiscal third quarter that ended June 30.

    Raymond James Financial CEO Paul Reilly unveiled record quarterly revenues and earnings for the St. Petersburg-based investment firm. [Courtesy of Raymond James Financial]