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Bad Company: When it comes to credit card offers, read the fine print

When it comes to debt, you should pay close attention to everything from the interest rate all the way down to the minimum payment.

That's because credit card companies don't always have your best interests in mind, even though they might argue to the contrary. You can think of the credit card companies like a tremendous sales person who has the kind of pitch you can't ignore.

The credit card pitch comes to you via email or regular snail mail in the form of applications that promise plenty of great rates and fantastic terms but really hide their true colors in that fine print no one ever reads.

Chances are some of the bold print tells you that your zero interest lasts only to a certain time and perhaps a little insight on balance transfers but that doesn't mean everything you need to know is put on the table.

For instance, late fees often come in the form of a sole one when you pay late. But what credit card companies might not tell quite so easily is that they can charge you two late fees for one late payment. Another aspect of paying late they don't want you to know: how about the late payment forgiveness they aren't so inclined to advertise. Most of the time, credit card companies will refund late fees if you've been a relatively good customer and you call to explain why you paid late.

That type of customer service, one would think, should be part of marketing plans and advertising efforts to let would be customers know how understanding they can be. But that isn't always the case; credit card companies make a nice piece of change on late fees, so why interrupt that source of revenue?

As long as you're talking about paying on time, you might want to steer clear of missing a payment or paying late. Not only is that going to hurt your credit, but you'll also find something even worse on that next credit card bill: a different annual percentage rate. Promotional rates of 3, 4 or 5 percent won't last long if you pay late. Credit card companies don't tell you that when they send out those flashy mailers, but truthfully they can manipulate that rate from 3 percent to 20 if you're lagging on paying on time.
No one is suggesting that all credit card companies deal in deception but rather have built in policies to protect their investment as well.

Habit Forming: Make your bad spending habits work for you

Whoever came up with the phrase “shop until you drop” must have been talking more about bank account balances than the physical act of passing out.

That's because shopping tend to take its toll on how much money you'll be able to save when you're spending a decent portion of your paycheck on hitting the mall or shopping relentlessly online.

Shopping hardly has anyone breaking a sweat with the actual art of doing it but rather fretting regarding whether they'll have enough money left over to pay their bills after a few sweaters, new jeans and anything else not tied down in the storefront windows.

The quick, efficient answer is to just stop buying and spending money on clothing, amassing more clothing but not really able to say the same thing about your assets. That isn't always as easy as it sounds, particularly if shopping is a passion or hobby of yours and isn't something you can necessarily toss aside so frivolously.

Spending too much on clothing is a budget buster no doubt, but who's to say that you still can't shop in moderation and save money all in the same breath? Truthfully, it's possible but only to the savvy financial shopper who isn't afraid to employ at least a few tricks to keep their shopping habit alive and well yet still have enough left over to make sure their power and heat stay on without fail.

First off, you might be one of those shoppers that ignore shopping programs or customer loyalty plans that deliver coupons, discounts and other specials in that same vein directly to your mailbox or email. You might want to rethink that mentality when it comes to skipping on signing up for these types of programs but rather relish in the idea that you can save money while you're shopping. This isn't clipping physical coupons but rather having a company like Macy's or Target give you a certain percentage of dollars back when you buy with them or sending you as many coupon related mailers as they can.

Take advantage of these programs and view them as more than just fancy junk mail.

Let's say you spend about $50 per week on clothing, give or take a few bucks. If a retailer is offering you $20 off that weekly total through loyalty programs or coupons, that could save about $1200 per year. That's money back in your pocket, without backing out of your shopping trips you enjoy so much.

Suddenly, you'll no longer be referred to as just a shop-a-holic but also find yourself carrying around a different moniker: money saving superstar.

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