With festivities, decorations and gifts top of mind during the holidays, credit cards can be a useful asset to help you spread the joy—as long as you use them responsibly. Here are four tips every savvy credit card user should follow when holiday shopping.

1. Avoid carrying a balance

Did your spending get out of control? Here are six steps to pay off credit card debt.

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We never want to leave anyone disappointed with our holiday shopping. But when spending gets out of hand, it’s easy to get into trouble. In 2017, the average shopper who accrued debt during the holidays racked up a balance of $1,054, according to MagnifyMoney. It’s OK to use a credit card when you can pay off the balance right away. But if you can’t, the interest quickly adds up, leaving you paying the bill long after your kids tire of playing with their new toys.

To avoid a balance, plan ahead for holiday shopping and budget for everyone on your list—then stick to it. Most friends and family would rather get a homemade gift from the heart than see you go into debt on their behalf.

2. Be smart and safe online

Shoppers spend billions online during the holiday shopping season, allowing many people to work through their shopping lists without ever having to get out of bed. And although online security is better than ever, there’s always a risk of your credit card information being stolen.

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Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi connections when you’re sharing sensitive information like your credit card number. And make sure the site you’re shopping on is secure—with a URL that starts with https, not just http.

3. Make sure you’re the first to know

It’s important to closely monitor your credit card. You may not be able to completely prevent issues with identity theft, but there are ways to catch problems before they get out of hand.

Most credit card companies offer credit activity alerts that inform you of unusual or suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to regularly check your credit report for any activity you don’t recognize.

4. Get something back from your credit card

If you’re responsibly using a credit card, then you should be getting something back from it. Using your card and paying off the balance fully can help improve your credit score. (Carrying a hefty balance can have the opposite effect.) And as you shop, many cards offer rewards so you can give yourself a little something extra under the tree. For example, with the AAA Dollars Plus Mastercard, you can earn up to 3 percent back on qualifying net purchases*—in AAA Dollars that can be redeemed for cash back**, discounts and more.

But be sure that you don’t overspend on holiday shopping just to earn rewards. The cost of interest from carrying a balance quickly outweighs the rewards you earn.

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The AAA Credit Card offers great rewards and plenty of perks to help you this holiday season—and year round.

*AAA Dollars awarded but not redeemed will expire at 11:00 p.m. Central Time on the last day of the calendar quarter that is five (5) years from the date on which they were earned. AAA Dollars Plus Mastercard: Earn 3% per dollar for qualifying net purchases made with the card through any participating AAA Club when AAA is the merchant of record, on qualifying net insurance purchases (MCC = 6300) and at eligible retails travel merchants. Account must be open and in good standing to earn and redeem rewards and benefits. Upon approval, please refer to your Cardmember Agreement for additional information. Net purchases are purchases minus credits and returns. Qualifying purchases do not include Advances (as defined in the Agreement, including wire transfers, travelers checks, money orders, foreign cash transactions, betting transactions, lottery tickets and ATM disbursements), convenience checks, balance transfers, unauthorized or fraudulent charges, overdraft advances, interest charges, fees, credit insurance charges, transactions to fund certain prepaid card products, U.S. Mint purchases, or transactions to purchase cash convertible items. AAA Dollars are not earned on business related transactions or activities. You may not redeem AAA Dollars, and you will immediately lose all of your AAA Dollars, if your Account is closed to future transactions (including, but not limited to, due to Program misuse, failure to pay, bankruptcy, or death). AAA Clubs located in Northern California, Nevada and Utah are not participating AAA Clubs and purchases made at those clubs will not qualify for 3%.

**AAA Dollars can be redeemed for cash back in the form an electronic (ACH) deposit into a checking or a savings account or statement credit.

The creditor and issuer of these cards is U.S. Bank NA dba ACG Card Services, pursuant to a license from Mastercard International Incorporated. Mastercard is a registered trademark, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated. If you are not at least 18 years of age, please disregard this offer. Equal Credit Opportunity Lender.

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