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(ARA) - The presents have been opened and the gift wrap has been thrown away, and the holiday shopping season has come to a close. A time-honored tradition to be sure, but also one that was hopefully approached thoughtfully. As virtually anyone can tell you, it's easy to spend, but once you've spent too much, you might find yourself in a financial challenge.

For many shoppers, a shopping decision is as easy as pulling out a credit card. And although cards can be a good way to build credit and earn rewards, when used wisely, they can also be a downfall for some shoppers who use them carelessly. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, as many as 14 million people admitted that they're still paying off purchases from last year's holiday season.

"If it's taking more than a year to pay off purchases, you're possibly on the way to damaged credit," says Barrett Burns, CEO of VantageScore Solutions, LLC. "The short term enjoyment that you might get from a purchase could be far outweighed by potential stress that could come later when those credit card bills come due. Taking steps to maintain good credit will alleviate a lot of headaches and allow you to take advantage of record low interest rates."

If you make smart shopping decisions throughout the year, you'll be protecting yourself from financial stress down the road. But it's also important to remember that even if you've already overspent, you can still make wise decisions about your credit going forward that can help you in the long term. Keep these credit score tips from VantageScore Solutions in mind.

When shopping
* Apply for credit sparingly. Although there are plenty of tempting offers and advertisements for credit cards, every new credit card account will appear on your credit report. Too many new credit card accounts over a short period of time can potentially damage your credit score. While the temptation might be there, you should apply for credit with the same thoughtfulness you'd use when making purchases with a credit card.

* Plan ahead. Credit scores take into account how much available credit you have. If you are planning on making a large purchase on credit in the future, consider limiting the use of your credit cards. This will not only allow you to retain your available credit balance, but can help you in getting the best interest rate for that big purchase.

If you've overspent
* Reduce your balance. A lower balance can help to improve your score and leave room for unexpected expenditures. A good rule of thumb is to try to keep balances under 30 percent of your total credit limit. For example, if your credit card limit is $3,000, try to keep your balance under $900. Although it is important to pay your all of your credit obligations, try to put more effort into bringing down higher balances to under the 30 percent threshold.

* Make payments on time. Establishing a positive payment history by paying your credit obligations on time, each and every month, can have one of the biggest impacts on your credit score. Don't let one missed or late payment potentially damage the credit score that you have worked hard all year to maintain. In addition, by maintaining a good credit score, you can help ensure that you get the most favorable interest rates on your credit accounts.

Taking a thoughtful approach to shopping - and paying off your shopping bills - can help you not only make smart purchases, but keep your credit score in good shape for the future. To learn more, go to www.vantagescore.com and visit www.creditscorequiz.org to test your knowledge about credit scoring.Smart shopping tips to keep your credit healthy
Category: Business