Clark Howard Shares Holiday Tips for Consumers

Clark Howard Shares Holiday Tips for Consumers

As gift-buying and travel pick up again around the holidays, we enter a prime season for a variety of consumer challenges.

Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to

Clark Howard is one of the country’s leading advocates for safety and consumer protection.
Clark Howard is one of the country’s leading advocates for safety and consumer protection.

Atlanta consumer expert Clark Howard is hard at work getting ready for this winter’s Clark Howard Habitat for Humanity build. It will be the 89th and 90th Habitat homes Howard has sponsored. At the same time, he’s preparing for the 31st annual Clark’s Christmas Kids, a program that collects presents for foster children in Georgia. An around-the-clock, money-saving, consumer-safety advocate, Howard cares about consumers. As gift-buying and travel pick up again around the holidays, we enter a prime season for a variety of consumer challenges. Luckily, we sat down with Howard to get some proactive advice and timely tips on safe buying and giving this holiday season.

AJT: What is the one thing every consumer should do to stay safe?
Howard: Freezing your credit is free and shuts criminals down cold when they try to apply for credit as you. Credit account fraud is the number-one form of ID theft and is a mess to clean up. It has no effect on your existing credit. You freeze your credit with Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. It will take a total of about 15 minutes to complete the process. I have a credit freeze guide at

AJT: For those of us who are seniors (over 65), how do we protect our social security number and identity?
Howard: Most important thing for seniors, but actually for consumers of any age: It seems that every form at every hospital, lab, diagnostic center and doctor will ask for your social security number. Always leave this blank or put in all zeros. The medical industry has such poor internet security that nearly half of ID thefts start there.

AJT: What is a helpful tip for smartphones?
Howard: People have been replacing their smartphones less frequently than in the past, as the changes are more incremental year to year than used to be the case. If you do want a new phone, use that as a time to shop for a new calling plan with all the cell phone companies. They will usually bribe you with a huge discount on a new phone and you make yourself a free agent so you can find the cheapest plans by not just going back to the company you already use. If you are or were in the military or are over 55 years old, T-Mobile has much better price plans than AT&T and Verizon.

AJT: Are there any settings on our phones that you think we should know about to stay safe?
Howard: I don’t have an iPhone so I’m not sure of the specific setting, but I know that iPhone users have the privilege of being able to block most apps from using their personal data. It is something all iPhone users should do. Unfortunately, there is no equivalent for Android users. If you have an Android, download the Lookout app, which does a great job of protecting you from spyware and viruses.

AJT: Do you have any tips on the best way to protect yourself while traveling?
Howard: Get a pouch that goes under your clothing to protect yourself from the pickpockets. Hide a credit card and some cash in your suitcase so that if someone does steal your wallet, you have the back-up.

AJT: Are there any websites you love that we should all know about?
Howard: I love to travel, so my favorite is Scott’s Cheap Flights. It notifies you whenever there are great deals for travel. People who like to fly business class can buy a premium membership from Scott’s that saves a ton on front-of-the-plane tickets.

AJT: With online crime on the rise, what is a good practice to avoid being hacked or stolen from?
Howard: Don’t post your birthday, birthplace or other key info on social media. Criminals can use info when people overshare to steal from your bank, credit union and brokerage accounts.

AJT: Regarding credit cards, what are the best practices? What should we know?
Howard: Using credit cards as a payment system is great. Running balances on them is a disaster, with the average interest rate around 17%. If you pay in full, reward cards are king. Avoid the temptation of the airline reward cards unless you charge a minimum of $10,000 per month or fly that airline a minimum of 6 times per year. Otherwise, get a cash-back card. The best pay 2% cash back on everything and have no annual fee.

AJT: What is your favorite way to save money these days? Any tips for our savings-conscious readers?
Howard: I hate paying for parking. I had to go to visit my doctor today and the parking charge is insane. I went on Google Maps and found the closest place I could park legally for free. It was an 11-minute walk each way, so I got 2,000 steps in and saved around $10.

AJT: Do you think everyone should bank online?
Howard: Online banking is fantastic! People under 35 generally don’t see traditional banks as relevant. The beauty of online banking is that virtually all services are fee-free. In addition, savings interest rates are usually 20 times that of traditional banks. Although that doesn’t matter as much with interest rates as low as they have been the last few years.

AJT: What’s the next-smartest time of the year to purchase something large? Any tips on your favorite sales coming up in January or February?
Howard: Sales patterns are totally disrupted because of the supply chain issues. It is impossible right now to state which items will be a deal and when.

AJT: Are you a fan of the highest-grade gas for a luxury automobile or should we go with the cheapest? What do you drive and put in your tank?
Howard: I have driven an electric vehicle for 10 years now. I could never go back to gas. As for those who still suffer with that overpriced gasoline, most vehicles made since 1996 that require premium will run perfectly on regular. What you will lose is some of the rated horsepower. Porsche says any car they make can run on either fuel type, even though premium is recommended so you can drive at the speeds that will get you a speeding ticket.

AJT: Are there any insurance policy tips you wish more people knew?
Howard: The auto insurance business is going through massive changes right now. There are a number of app-based insurers that offer a potentially better deal than companies that spend billions of dollars on advertising. People under 35 are signing up by the millions for non-traditional insurance. Check out people like Mile Auto, Lemonade and Metromile.

For more tips, deals and consumer safety best practices check out Howard’s website at

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