When do you start planning for Christmas? Ideally you'll already have saved most of what you need for the big day, but realistically, most people aren't quite there yet. A large proportion of the population will never get there, and have to borrow to pay for the festivities.
If there's any chance at all that you'll have to borrow for Christmas, there are seven things you need to do right now, to save yourself from building up a debt problem closer to the time.
The vast majority of people are a long way from having saved enough to pay for the festivities. They will try to put aside some cash for Christmas, but may not have started just yet, and know that it'll be a struggle to pay for Christmas this year.
A survey by free credit checking service ClearScore found that one in five British households are already worrying about festive expenses and nearly a quarter say they will take out a new financial product – such as a credit card – to help manage the cost of Christmas.
If you really do need to borrow - and cannot cut your costs to stay within your means - then the right kind of borrowing is key. But while 70% will visit a price comparison site before applying for a new card, and over one quarter turn to news articles to find the best deals on the market, only one in five will check their credit score. In fact, less than half of card-carrying Brits have checked their score in the last year and 30% have never checked it.
Your score is incredibly important, because it can affect your ability to access the best financial products. It's no good to you that there are credit cards offering interest-free deals on purchases that last two years or longer if you score won't allow you to access them.
That's why even if you cannot make any other preparations for the expenses of Christmas, the one thing you really cannot afford to neglect is your credit score, Justin Basini, CEO of ClearScore, explains: "For many people, Christmas inevitably involves some level of short term borrowing as a way to spread the costs, often using a credit card. The important thing is to keep that borrowing under control and pay as little in interest as possible. Lenders reserve the lowest rates for those with better credit scores, so it pays to start improving yours now."
The seven steps
It means there are seven sensible steps worth taking as soon as possible:
1. Sign up to see your credit score – you can get can your free score and report at ClearScore, or use the free trial available from Experian.
2. Check your report thoroughly, and report and correct any mistakes. Otherwise these could end up unexpectedly damaging your score.
3. Ensure you're registered on the electoral roll – this is a very simple way of boosting your score quickly, because lenders will use this to check you are who you say you are.
4. Make sure that your name is on some utility accounts – the greater the evidence that you borrow and repay your credit regularly, the better your credit score will be.
5. Cancel any expensive credit cards you no longer use. Lenders will be interested to see how many cards you have, so bringing down the total could be useful.
6. Pay down any debt you can afford on other cards. Lenders are also interested in the percentage of available debt you are using - between 25-30% is ideal.
7. Apply for credit in plenty of time. Take your time to find a card that suits your needs rather than loading debt onto cards you already have - which may prove expensive.