Shopping during the holidays can be a stressful time for consumers as many are already saddled with other debt incurred during the year.
Consumers are estimated to spend an average $1,047.83 in brick-and-mortar stores and online, an increase of 4% compared with 2018, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. The holiday season runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 and shoppers will spend a total of $727.9 and $730.7 billion, said NRF, a Washington-based trade organization.
A survey conducted by New York-based Union Bank found that two out of three consumers have a budget for their holiday shopping and expenses, but 33% of the respondents said it will take them six months to pay off their credit card debt. Three out of 10 people said they spend more money to just impress friends and family members.
Instead of going over your budget every holiday season, start planning now for the 2020 holidays, said Thomas Nitzsche, a credit educator for Money Management International, a Sugar Land, Texas-based non-profit debt counseling organization.
Decide how much you need to have set aside for the holidays next year, divide by your number of pay periods and direct deposit that amount into a separate savings account,” he said. “It’s estimated that between nine to 15% of Americans are still paying on 2018 holiday debt.”
Here are 15 tips to pay off your holiday debt sooner.
How to Pay Off Your Holiday Debt: 15 Tips
1. Stop Spending
Frivolous and impulse buys only lead to more debt. Being unable to pay off statement balances each month and spending on credit is a vicious cycle that digs people deeper into debt, especially during the holidays when overindulging to fulfill everyone’s wish lists is more likely to occur, said Chris Osmond, chief investment officer at Prime Capital Investment Advisors in Overland Park, Kansas.
Instead, change your habits. Go on a spending diet by eliminating credit spending, especially high interest credit, he said.
“Phase out spending with credit cards by doing something as simple as leaving them home,” he said. “This will shed light on how easily we spend on impulse, but also proves how much easier it would be to decrease our debt while also saving.”
2. Create a Budget
Be realistic about how much you are spending each month, especially on discretionary expenses like eating out. Determine your income then track and analyze spending. With today’s technology, online banking and mobile applications, like Expensify and Mint, label and track expenses with ease, so that you can begin a plan to pay off the most expensive debt first and/or begin paying more than minimum balances, Osmond said.
“How often do you shop, or dine out, or go to the movies?,” he said. “Make note of your biggest expenses that are not needs, but wants and how much of those purchases could be applied to debt or saved.”
Identify the places where you can cut down on spending. Shop at cheaper discount stores to save on groceries, limit going out to dinner, think about dropping to a more basic cable package or a more basic cell phone plan, said Troy Frerichs, a vice president of investment services at Country Financial, a Bloomington, Illinois-based financial services company.
“Most importantly, hold off on all large purchases until you have your debt paid down and money saved up,” he said.
3. Make a List of Your Debts
“Any debt repayment strategy starts with making a list of all your outstanding debts, their required monthly payment, the interest rate and any notes on it that interest rate may change in the future,” said Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst for Bankrate, a New York-based financial data company.
“Only when you know all the debt you have and see it in front of you, can you develop the most effective repayment strategy,” McBride said.
4. Use the Avalanche Method
There are two primary approaches toward debt repayment – the avalanche method and the snowball method.
The avalanche method involves prioritizing repayment from highest interest rate to lowest rate.
“If adhered to, this strategy gets the debt paid off the fastest and with paying the least amount of interest,” McBride says.
5. Use the Snowball Method
The snowball method involves getting a few quick ‘wins’ under your belt by knocking out your smallest debts first, McBride says.
“This then enables you attack your larger debts in a meaningful way by having fewer payments to juggle,” he said. “While not the optimal strategy for minimizing interest costs, at the end of the day the optimal strategy for an individual borrower is whatever gets them out of debt.”
Paying down consumer debt can be a really challenging, yet rewarding process, said Daren Blonksi, managing principal of Sonoma Wealth Advisors in Sonoma, California. This strategy has a major drawback since people should technically pay the highest interest rate first.
But human behavior means many people gain momentum and motivation by paying the debt with the lowest balance first.
“I have watched clients use both methods successfully, the best method is really a matter of temperament,” Blonksi said. “Do what works for you, that's all that matters.”
6. Call Your Credit Card Issuer
Communicate with your credit card issuers to see if you qualify for a lower interest rate, said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization.
“That can make a big difference and save you a lot of money in the long run,” McClary said. “You’ll need to have a decent credit score and a record of timely payments to have a chance at a better rate, so check your credit score beforehand to see where you stand. There is no guarantee that you will get a better rate, but you never know if you don’t ask.”
7. Combine Your Debts
Consolidate your debt with a lower rate account, McClary says. Consumers can opt for a lower interest rate credit card or a personal loan.
“It may even be possible to move balances to an account with a very low or interest-free introductory offer,” he said. “Just be sure to pay off the transferred balances before the reduced rate offer expires in order to save the most money. Also, it helps to avoid placing any new charges on the accounts that were paid off by the balance transfer.”
8. Look for a 0% Interest Rate Credit Card for New Purchases
Many credit card issuers will offer a promotional 0% interest rate for a limited time period for people who have a good credit score. Make sure you can pay off the debt within a year or 18 months because interest rates will jump to double digits after that period ends.
“Look for a card with an introductory 0% interest period for new purchases,” said Sara Rathner, a credit cards expert at NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based financial products and services company. “There are cards on the market that spare you interest payments for a year or more, which is helpful if you plan to buy some big-ticket items.”
9. Get a Balance Transfer Card
A good debt payoff tip is to sign up for a balance transfer credit card. The odds are pretty good that consumers can qualify for one — we generally see credit scores of 670 or higher required by credit card issuers and the average nationwide is 705, said Ted Rossman, an analyst for CreditCards.com, an Austin, Texas-based financial data company.
"You can pay no interest for as long as 21 months on the Citi Simplicity card. It charges a 5% upfront transfer fee, which might be worth it. If you want to avoid the fee, you could opt for 15 months with no interest and no transfer fees on the Chase Slate, Amex Everyday or BankAmericard," he said.
“Depending on how much you owe, a balance transfer could save you hundreds or maybe even thousands of dollars,” Rossman said. “Unfortunately, not enough people know about balance transfers. A CreditCards.com survey found just 51% of U.S. adults are aware of this concept.”
10. Obtain a Card With a Lower Interest Rate
Not all consumers can qualify for a 0% credit card because of their credit score. There are other options for people with lower credit scores that offer interest rates that are under 10%.
Aside from limited-time 0% promotions, some of the lowest ongoing rates are offered by financial institutions with military ties, Rossman said. The Navy Federal Platinum card charges as little as 7.49% (membership is open to about half of the U.S., including current servicemembers, veterans, civilian DoD employees and family members.). The PenFed Gold Visa card (available to all) charges as little as 8.24% while the USAA Rate Advantage Visa Platinum Card has rates starting at 8.40% (their membership guidelines are similar to Navy Federal’s).
Aside from these military-focused institutions, many credit unions offer low credit card rates as well. A good one that’s available nationwide is the Lake Michigan Credit Union Prime Platinum Visa (rates as low as 7.75%).
“If you’re in the market for a low-rate credit card, it’s definitely worth investigating other credit unions near you,” Rossman said.
11. Talk to a Credit Counselor
A credit counselor can help if holiday debt becomes unmanageable and can assist with other financial challenges related to student loan debt or housing," McClary said.
“Since saving is an effective way to avoid debt, a credit counselor can also help you find the best strategy for having a bigger cash reserve to use during the holidays next year,” he said.
12. Get a Part-Time Job
Getting another job during the holidays or for a few months can help you avoid paying a lot of interest from your credit card bills. Many jobs have flexible hours such as driving for a car sharing company, snow removal, babysitting or taking care of someone’s pets.
“Signing up to be a walker or sitter on the Rover platform is an excellent way to make extra money during the holiday season, especially when you’re eyeing that special present for someone,” said Jenna White, general manager of boarding and daycare Services at Rover.com, a Seattle-based pet sitting services company. “With the flexibility of choosing what services to provide and when to provide them, you can create your own schedule and decide just how much you want to make. Not to mention, you’ll get the added benefit of pet love in your life — something we could all use more of,” White said.
13. Set Up Auto Payments
Create auto payments, especially if you get another credit card like a 0% balance transfer one to pay off expenses.
“Budget those payments into your monthly expenses and do other things less often, such as dining out or going to a movie,” said Stephanie Richman, vice president and wealth Advisor at EP Wealth Advisors in Lafayette, California. “Cook in or watch some holiday cheer on your favorite streaming media.”
14. Use Next Year's Tax Refund
If you typically receive a large tax refund, you can use the payment that you receive from the IRS to pay off all of your holiday debt. This stopgap measure should not be a strategy you employ every year. Start planning for your 2020 expenditures now.
Many people rely on their tax refund to pay off their expenses from the holidays.
“One big factor in paying off this debt are tax refunds,” said Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, a Charlotte, N.C. lending marketplace. “Tax refunds are mostly issued in February at 44% of total refunds in 2019. By the end of March, 65% of refunds had been paid out. The average refund of $2,873 by March 29, 2019 compared quite favorably with our estimate of $1,230 in holiday debt that the average consumer added last year.”
15. Avoid Retailers' Credit Cards
Although you may be presented with opportunities to save big by opening a retail credit account at every store you visit, you should not give In to the temptation to apply for multiple accounts at the same time, McClary said.
“Not only can that have a negative impact on your credit score, but you might also find yourself with more accounts than you can manage,” he said. “If you are determined to open a retail account to take advantage of discounts and introductory interest-free repayment, It’s best to settle on the one offer that will save you the most money while not putting you in a situation where you could take on more debt than you can afford to repay."