NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Don't worry frugal, recession-shocked Americans: It's OK and sometimes beneficial to do your holiday shopping with a credit card.
This summer, as holiday savings and layaway programs began, the American Express (AXP - Get Report) Spending and Savings Tracker found that 75% of Americans had either maintained or lowered their debt in the first half of the year and planned to save an average of $12,000 this year. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department noted that Americans saved 5.9% of their disposable income in the second quarter. Even as families with incomes of more than $100,000 increase by 400,000 this year and are poised to contribute an extra $1.1 billion to the holiday season's shopping, according to a survey released yesterday by American Express Publishing and Harris Group, their predicted average holiday spending of $2,093 this year is down roughly 1% from last year.
That thriftiness was evident earlier this week, when the National Retail Federation predicted that U.S. holiday spending would rise 2.3% from last year, to $447.1 billion. While that marks a dramatic improvement from last year's 0.4% rise and 2008's 3.9% downturn, it's still shy of the 2.5% average annual growth during the last decade.
Retailers have played it safe, with Toys R Us renewing last year's "Christmas Savers Club" plan that allows customers to put money on a gift card through cash or credit card payments and earn 3% interest as the holiday approaches. Sears (SHLD) and Kmart's "Christmas Club" gift card also offers 3% interest (yielding up to $100), but the two chains also focused on layaway programs by extending consumers' payment period to 12 weeks from eight.Target (TGT) had offered customers an automatic 5% discount off their purchase when paying with their Target Visa (V - Get Report) or house credit and debit cards, but are now offering new applicants for their private-label Target Credit Card 10% off a full day of shopping for signing up, while all cardholders get 10% off a day of shopping for every $1,000 they spend at the store. Banks and credit card issuers, however, are being slightly more generous in wooing holiday shoppers who've been more nice than naughty with their spending and payment schedules. "There are several cards that offer significant cash back or points during the first three months," says Ben Woolsey, analyst for CreditCards.com., "although they aren't really tied to holiday spending."