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87694068RISMEDIA, December 21, 2009—This year, Americans spent less and used less credit on “Black Friday,” a sign that consumers are moving in the right direction to avoid over-spending at the holidays.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), more shoppers hit the stores this year than last year, but they spent less per person. “Overall U.S. consumer spending is predicted to drop this year, but if you are a shopper who is used to putting holiday expenses on credit cards, this year–more than ever–may be the time to think twice before charging,” cautioned Andrew Housser, co-founder and co-CEO of Freedom Debt Relief (FDR).

The following are FDR’s top six ways to avoid holiday debt:

1. Budget. Know what you have to spend, and don’t go beyond your means. “This season, retailers are slashing prices. That can help shoppers stick to their budgets,” Housser said. “If you are unsure what to buy, search online for gifts under $20 to get some ideas. More shoppers might also be turning to eBay and other discounters to extend their dollars.”

2. Spend with cash. Cash is a growing trend: Just 28.3% of U.S. shoppers expect to use credit cards this holiday season, down from 31.5% last year, according to a survey released in November 2009 by the NRF and BIGresearch. In contrast, 25% of shoppers will use cash. These trends held true over Thanksgiving weekend, when 26% of shoppers used credit cards, 39% used cash, and the remainder reported using debit cards.

3. Do not buy for yourself. Stick strictly to your gift list. The only exception should be a great buy on an item you have planned to purchase, and for which you have dedicated cash in hand.

4. Resist store cards. Although they might offer introductory 0% interest rates, those rates will expire–and sooner than you expect. Many store cards carry regular interest rates of 20% or more. Additionally, your credit score may take a slight hit from opening a new card.

5. Read the fine print. Review all materials from your credit card issuer. Up to 50% of Americans say their credit card interest rates have increased in the past six months. Many lenders are raising rates before the Credit CARD Act’s reforms take effect in February 2010.

6. If you do use a credit card, choose wisely. Choose one card with the lowest annual interest rate, and only charge what you can afford to pay off when the bill comes. Be sure you will not exceed your credit limit. “Putting purchases on a single card helps you keep track of spending (check balances online or by phone if you are not sure),” Housser explained. “Be sure to check your current credit limits before you begin using credit cards, too. Many card issuers have lowered credit limits in the past year.”

Increasingly, American society focuses on spending as the centerpiece of holiday celebrations. That means many people will go into the red by racking up debt at this time of year. “Debt at the holidays is often just accepted, just as many people accept overindulging in food or drink as part of the celebrations,” Housser said. “But these actions have real repercussions. It is possible to avoid debt and holiday overindulgence by planning ahead- and using a few tricks to eke out extra holiday buying power.”

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