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Five ways credit cards can make holiday shopping easier

By , CardRatings Contributor

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According to Consumer Reports, American shoppers overspent their holiday budgets by about 11% last year, with most gift givers spending about $800 to clear their shopping lists. Credit cards can burn a hole in your pocket during the holiday season, making it easy to indulge both generous and selfish whims. Even if you're planning on making this year a cash-only gifting cycle, credit cards can help you save money and improve your shopping experience in five ways:

Speed up your checkout

Many retailers now rely on self-checkout scanners and mobile cashier stations that accept credit cards much more easily than cash. (If they accept cash at all, that is.) Not only will you get yourself in and out of stores more quickly, you'll keep lines moving quickly for your fellow shoppers.

Make returns easier

Retailers' return policies can vary from a few days to a few months during the holiday season, with some merchants slapping the "all sales final" sticker on a few types of products. If a store's reluctant to exchange or refund one of your holiday purchases, suggest to a manager that you might want to lodge a chargeback complaint. The hassle to process the paperwork on a chargeback is so high, most retail managers will prefer to refund your purchase outside their usual guidelines.

Protect your purchases

Many credit cards now offer extended warranty coverage plans that can double or triple the service periods on major purchases, like televisions, computers, or appliances. You could save money compared to store-issued extended warranty plans.

Track your holiday spending

Designating one credit card as your holiday account can help you manage your gift budget more effectively. If you've saved up cash for your year-end spending spree, you can pay down your balance as you go using your credit card issuer's website. Checking your online statement regularly can prevent you from overspending on any single recipient.

Prevent holiday shopping theft

Brazen thieves can run your holidays by stealing cash or spoofing your debit card details to gain access to your checking account. Stripping your wallet down to just your preferred holiday credit card can make your mall trips less stressful, while preserving your other cards as backup if the worst happens.

Even if you don't need to tap your credit line to make it through the holiday season, these five strategies can make your favorite credit card a useful shopping tool between now and the end of the year.

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