The popular Christmas carol “Deck the Halls” reminds us ’tis the season to be jolly.

But with 28 days until Christmas, ‘tis also the season to shop smart.

That starts with how you make your purchases. If possible, don’t pay with a debit card. Use a credit card.

But pick the right one.

“Certain credit cards offer valuable free benefits,” explains ConsumerWorld.org. “For example, don’t be pressured into buying a service contract when you can get up to an extra year of warranty coverage free. Some credit cards also offer a return protection guarantee (they will refund the purchase price within 90 days if the store will not), or offer a sale price guarantee (they will give you back the difference if an item goes on sale within 60 days of purchase).”

And if there’s an issue with a purchase, only credit cards provide the opportunity to dispute the charge, not paying while the claim is investigated. Also, there’s usually no liability for reported fraudulent credit card charges.

Then keep the receipt.

If you’re purchasing a gift, ask for a gift receipt and include it in the present. For recipients, don’t inadvertently throw it out with the wrapping.

That’s because that little piece of paper is vitally important. Without it, there’s no way to establish proof of purchase. Without proof, not only can there be problems returning an item, but any subsequent warranty claims will require it.

So, staple the receipt and the UPC package code onto the warranty information and put it all in a safe place. Just in case.

Got something you want to return? First check the store’s policy online or at its customer service counter.

“Big merchants usually allow up to 90 days for most items to be returned, but they may have far shorter periods for certain goods,” explains Consumer Reports. “During the holidays, however, some retailers will extend their deadlines, often until late January. For items purchased online, note whether the merchant also has walk-in store locations and allows in-person returns.”

And CR recommends never opening the box.

“If you try to take back an item and the original packaging isn’t intact, merchants may impose a restocking fee (often 15 percent of the purchase price). That’s especially common for electronics. And if products are missing tags, you may be stuck with them.”

Also, think twice before agreeing to specially-offered deferred interest promotions. That’s where stores offer a line of credit allowing you to make interest-free monthly payments on big-ticket items, usually for a year. However, during this time, that interest is continually accruing. It’s canceled when the balance is paid off in full.

But it comes with a BIG string attached.

“If you leave an unpaid balance of even a dollar at the end of the introductory period, or you miss a single payment, interest will retroactively apply to your entire original purchase amount,” warns CardHub. “Thus, what you initially thought was a great deal, could quickly devolve into a holiday nightmare.”

As long as you know you’ll have the money to pay off these credit lines on time and follow the rules, this is a smart, no-cost loan. But verify when the deferment period ends, and mark your calendar to pay at least a month prior.

Finally, when checking out, just because you’re asked, don’t automatically provide your phone number, email address, or date of birth. It’s personal information which should remain personal.

Upcoming class

On Dec. 5 from 1-3 p.m., I’ll be teaching a class on how to become a more protected consumer for the Renaissance Academy of Florida Gulf Coast University at Herald Court Centre in Punta Gorda.

Enroll by calling 941-505-0130, or go online at https://registerhcc.asapconnected.com/ and click “View All” under classes and select “Become a Protected Consumer.”

I’ll be handing out a valuable list of consumer tips and resources.

David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980; email dmorris@sun-herald.com; or leave a message at 941-206-1114.

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