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Be of Good Cheer By Heeding These Credit Card Warnings

November 15, 1996|KATHY M. KRISTOF

Citibank is urging consumers to secure their wallets for the holidays--a high season for travel, shopping, pickpockets and overspending. The bank offers these tips:

* Watch where and how you use your ATM card. A criminal who is close enough to watch as you plug in the personal identification number can steal from your bank account. And beware of pickpockets if you are careless enough to write your PIN on your card.

* Make sure to get your card back after a purchase. Things can get mixed up in a maddening crowd--often to a criminal's advantage.

* Track your spending so you don't go way over your holiday budget.

* Carry only the cards you need. That way, if your wallet is lost or stolen, you won't have to cancel everything.

* Know thy perks. Many credit card companies provide free travel insurance and discounts on hotels and car rentals to all their customers. If you're traveling over the holidays, that can save you a few bucks.

If you need help tracking your spending or want more fraud tips, Citibank provides free booklets: "Facing Financial Fraud" and "Credit Minder." Both are free to those who call (800) 669-2635.

For those who fail to heed the holiday advice, there's "Coping With a Credit Crisis." The booklet is also free and available by dialing the toll-free number.

* Financial Literacy Contest: The National Endowment for Financial Education is holding a contest that promises awards ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 to high school students who best answer the question: "What in the world is financial literacy?" Entries can be in the form of essays or posters. They must be postmarked by Feb. 28, 1997. Entry forms are generally available through high school guidance offices. However, if your high school doesn't have the forms, you can get copies through the NEFE, 4695 S. Monaco St., Denver, CO 80237-3403.

* Mutual Fund Basics Online: Are you thinking about investing in a mutual fund? If so, check out Kemper Corp.'s Web site at The site features college and retirement planning tips. However, its section on mutual fund basics is what's most useful. This segment includes lots of basic information and lays out the 13 most common mistakes mutual fund investors make.

Those who have a little time may also want to check out the site's explanation of how interest rate changes filter through the economy. The site's bright and moving graphics are delightful to look at but slow to respond if you don't have a high-speed modem. For the impatient, there's a graphic "lite" option that's not quite as cute, but substantially quicker.

* Free Retirement and College Planners: Need a little help determining how much you need to save for retirement or for the kids' college bills--and want some ideas on how to sagely invest it? Dreyfus Corp., a New York-based mutual fund company, has two marvelous booklets--"The Dreyfus Retirement Planner" and "Investing for College." Both are filled with work sheets and market facts that can help you with either goal. You can get the free booklets by calling (800) 782-6620.

* Survey Finds Students "Realistic and Responsible": Phoenix Home Life, in its latest fiscal-fitness survey, polled 1,200 students--ranging from junior high school to college--on their financial savvy. The results: 89% of these kids agree that they should save for the future and 78% have savings accounts; 94% shop for bargains; 52% work after school or on weekends; and 87% save a portion of their wages, while 52% save a portion of their allowance.

Of the college students surveyed, many are paying all or part of their college bills by contributing to their own savings (53%); working during summer and winter vacations (73%); working during the school year (61%); or by borrowing money (30%).

As for goals: 90% want to be happy; 88% want kids who love them; 81% want jobs they love; 71% don't want to owe money; 31% want to be able to buy what they want; and 17% want nice clothes. Only 11% consider it "very important" to have a million dollars. Buying an expensive car ranks important to only about 5% of those surveyed. Finally, 60% of student credit card holders pay off their balances each month, compared with about 45% of adults, according to Yankelovich Partners Inc., which conducted the survey.

In other words, if the survey is to be believed, today's generation of kids is substantially more grounded and financially responsible than adults. Now here's the bad news: 79% of the respondents said they plan to handle their money the way their parents do.

Consumer Checklist is a weekly feature that covers a range of pocketbook issues of interest to Californians. To contribute information about new legislation, products, services or surveys, write to Kathy M. Kristof, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053; or e-mail

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