Holiday shopping alert: Credit card offers may not be what they seem

Canceling card wrong way can damage credit

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - Christmas trees are popping up in department stores and credit card offers are popping into your mailbox, too.

'Tis almost the season for holiday shopping, but if you're thinking of taking advantage of a new credit card offer, there are important steps to consider before opening or closing an account.

Paying with plastic seems to be the American way.

The latest Federal Reserve statistics show more than 176 million of us are using them every day.

In fact, the average American has at least three credit cards in their wallet right now.

The question is, do you need another?

"Let's say you get a little flyer in the mail 'apply now, rates as low as 9.9 percent.' Now it doesn't mean, just because the envelope has your name on it, doesn't mean you're getting 9.99 percent.  It's based upon credit approval," said Greg McBride, of

McBride says you probably won't know the real annual percentage rate or credit limit until you actually get the card in the mail.

So if those terms aren't what you expected or are less than advertised, and you decide not to use the card the next step is crucial.

"A lot of people tend to think that if they don't pull the sticker off and call that 800 number to activate the new card no one will ever know they have it.  That's not the case," said McBride.

You actually need to cancel the card.    

Start by calling the company, then follow up with a snail mail letter documenting the day the account was closed.

Send the letter, certified with a return receipt, to verify delivery.  And specify in your letter that the account is being closed at the consumer's request.

"That tells other creditors that you were the one who decided to close that account and that the creditor didn't decide based on poor payment habits by you," said McBride.

Another important thing to remember about applying for a credit card is that it can have a negative impact on your credit score and that can affect the interest rate you get on car loan or mortgage. 

Every credit inquiry impacts your credit score for a year and stays on your credit report for two years.

Don't be surprised if after closing an account you continue to get statements.

Experts say you should always check them for any fees that may be inadvertently tacked on.

Click here for more information about your credit card rights and responsibilities.

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