Personal finance
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Best credit cards for holiday shopping
Anyone who's ever shopped during the holidays knows it can be a battle. High prices, aggressive crowds and the need to do so much in so little time make things tough on both you and your wallet. But having the right credit card will help. You can save hundreds of dollars simply by using one of the best credit cards for holiday shopping.

The credit card market's upper tier boasts unprecedented value, as issuers compete for the business of the roughly 45% of consumers who have excellent credit. They're offering sign-up bonuses, 0% introductory interest rates and great ongoing rewards. You just have to figure out what you're looking for in a credit card.

If you want a quick payoff

The Chase Sapphire Credit Card offers the most valuable initial bonus on the market, giving cardholders who charge at least $3,000 during the first three months 40,000 bonus points. They can be redeemed for a $400 statement credit or $500 in travel accommodations booked through Chase, and the card doesn't charge an annual fee during the first year.

Using it to handle holiday shopping on top of your everyday needs should help you meet the initial spending requirement, and you'll therefore either give your bank account some reinforcements a few months down the road or be able to save on a much-needed vacation.

If you want ongoing benefit

Many folks are likely hesitant to open a credit card for the sole purpose of saving on holiday shopping, and that's perfectly understandable. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express will help you save all year. It offers 6% cash back on supermarket purchases (up to a $6,000 limit), 3% on gas station and department store purchases, and 1% on everything else. It does charge a $75 annual fee, but if you spend at least $1,000 during the first three months, the $150 bonus you get will cover that for two years.

If you want to avoid interest on upcoming purchases

The average holiday shopper is expected to spend $749.51 this year, according to the National Retail Federation -- a lot of money no matter who you are. We're also expected to end the year with $43.5 billion more in credit card debt, so a lot of us will need a few extra months to pay off our holiday expenses. A card like the Citi Diamond Preferred can help you save a lot of money, as it offers 0% on new purchases for 18 months and doesn't charge an annual fee.

If you want to lower the cost of existing debt

The average household has roughly $6,700 in credit card debt, and if you foresee adding to your tab this holiday season, a card like the Slate Card from Chase would definitely come in handy. It offers 0% on balance transfers for 15 months and doesn't charge a balance-transfer fee or an annual fee. You can use a credit card calculator to see exactly how much you'd save with such a card -- don't be surprised if it's about $1,000 in interest and fees.

If you want to do most of your shopping at a particular store

Store credit cards can be used only at the retailers with which they are affiliated, but they can provide a lot of value nonetheless.

One of the best credit cards in this category is the J.C. Penney Card, which offers 20% off apparel, shoes, handbags and fashion jewelry as well as 10% off fine jewelry, watches and home merchandise the day you're approved for your account. If you can cross off a good amount of your to-do list at J.C. Penney, you'll be saving efficiently with this card.

Finally, it's important to note that you aren't necessarily limited to just one of these cards. You can mix and match a rewards card with a 0% credit card, for example, to subsidize your holiday purchases and then avoid interest later.

What's more, if you don't have the credit standing required to get one of the cards mentioned above, the best present you can give yourself is credit improvement. By opening a secured card and making on-time monthly payments, you should be able to take advantage of deals like the ones above soon.

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