The Five Most Important Numbers of the Holiday Shopping Season

 

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The holiday shopping season could result in a financial meltdown if you're not careful.

From spending beyond your means to opening up too many department store credit cards, there are an overwhelming number of opportunities to wreck your finances. 

Remembering these five numbers will not only help fix your finances, but prevent you from getting into financial trouble in the first place:

1. 23%

This is the average interest rate on a department store credit card, which is some eight points higher than your average APR on a traditional credit card, according to analysis from CreditCards.com. When you're at the stores, there's no question you'll be asked to get one of these cards. Just say no. The higher interest rate will eat into the discounts you received from opening up the card if you end up leaving a balance on the card, which is pretty easy to do. 


2. $3.4 billion

This is how much retailers will lose from return fraud, according to the National Retail Federation. Retailers are cracking down on fraudulent returns, which makes it tougher to return items across the board. Before you make any purchase, know the store's return policy. Chances are if you can't present the original receipt, the store won't take back the item. If you're shopping online, check to see if the retailer charges to ship the item back, which is an overlooked expense for many consumers. To get around this fee, shop at online retailers that also have brick-and-mortar locations, since you should be able to return an online item at the store's physical location.

3. 75%

This is the percentage of Americans who have made an impulse buy, according to a new survey from CreditCards.com. One-third of these consumers spent at least $100 on impulse buys, so they can quickly add up. Watch out for certain areas in the store where you may be more prone to making these kinds of purchases such as the checkout area, the beginning and end of the aisles and even right when you walk into the store.

4. $82

This is the average amount you'll have to spend to be eligible for free shipping this year, compared to $76 in 2013, according to StellaService. Someone has to foot the bill for free shipping so instead of charging you directly, stores are trying to get you to at least increase your spending. Target (TGT) , Nordstrom (JWN) , Zappos, Reebok and LL Bean are just a few stores that offer free shipping on all orders, no questions asked. And then there are stores like Best Buy (BBY) which gives free shipping over $35 and Barnes & Noble (BKS) with free shipping on orders over $25. Also, consider shopping on Free Shipping Day, Dec. 18, which already has over 800 retailers participating.

5. $61

Let's say you put a $500 television on your credit card. If you leave that balance on your card for six months, you're going to pay an extra $61 in interest, on a card with a 25% interest rate, according to Bankrate's online credit card interest calculator. The money you're wasting in interest erases some of the savings you scored by purchasing the TV. If you're going to use your credit cards, pay off the entire balance in full and not just the minimum payment because it's calculated in a way to keep you in debt. If you can't afford to pay off the entire balance, try to pay double the minimum payment.

--Written by Scott Gamm for TheStreet.

Follow @ScottGamm.

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