Man sliding credit card
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Don’t you just love October? The kids are in school, the weather has grown cooler and the smell of pumpkin spice lattes is in the air.

And, more importantly, you’re still a few weeks away from giving your credit cards a major workout. Before you blow your budget (please don’t) on end-of-the-year gift-giving, here are a few ideas for what you can do now to keep your finances in tip-top shape.

Consider a freeze

This is the most important thing happening in credit today, and it’s likely to linger with us for years to come. If it isn’t already, make protecting yourself against the Equifax data breach a top priority.

Your best defense is a credit freeze. This prevents most people from examining your credit, something reputable lenders demand before agreeing to issue a new credit card or approve a mortgage. That should be enough to keep the bad guys at bay.

You’ll need to freeze your credit at the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’ll likely have to pay for it. Freeze fees vary from $3 to $10 based on the state in which you live. Equifax will waive its fee until Nov. 21.

Pay your bills on time

This one seems obvious. But credit card delinquencies are on the rise.

If you miss a payment or are late, you could be subject to both a late fee and a penalty APR that could last indefinitely. This could make the cost of your debt even more expensive over the long haul.

Say you owe $10,000 on a credit card that has an APR of 18% and make minimum on-time payments each month. You’ll have paid $1,572 in interest over the course of a year. But miss a payment and watch your debt soar, as penalty APRs can reach close to 30%.

If you think you might pay late, you might be better off setting up an automatic payment plan to at least make the minimum payments due each month. If your credit is still good, look to a 0% balance transfer offer to give yourself some relief on interest payments.

Use a card with rotating cash-back bonus categories

Some of the best cash-back credit cards offer up to 5% cash back in categories that rotate quarterly. This year, the fourth quarter categories for two of the most popular cards are sure to big a hit among cardholders.

Through Dec. 31, the Chase Freedom card will pay 5% cash back on purchases made at Walmart and select department stores up to $1,500, and the Discover it will pay 5% cash back on purchases made through Amazon.com and at Target, up to $1,500. If you already own one of these cards, it’s like getting a sweet discount every time you shop.

In some cases, you might be able to save even more. With the Discover it, at the end of the first year of card ownership, Discover will match dollar-for-dollar of all the cash back you’ve earned through your first year. So, if you’ve earned $200 through your spending, you’ll get another $200 after your first anniversary.

A sweet way to save

For anyone who is expecting a deluge of little goblins knocking on their door, now is the time to stock up on candy. Those who do most of their household shopping at warehouse clubs or online can save big on sugary supplies by using the right rewards card.

For example, click-happy Amazon Prime lovers can earn 5% cash back on every purchase with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card while Costco loyalists can earn 2% back with the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi. It’s notoriously difficult to find ways to save on Amazon or Costco purchases, and these cards provide that opportunity.

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