Americans have replaced the holiday party lampshade on their heads, and have replaced it with an ice bag - at least from a financial point of view.
That sort of recuperation is necessary after a 2015 holiday spending binge that added $986, on average, in debt to their bank accounts, according to a new study from MagnifyMoney.
There is an upside and a downside to all that added holiday spending. "While the $986 those surveyed added to their debt on average is a manageable amount, it can easily snowball," states MagnifyMoney, in its report. "At a 15% rate on a credit card making just the minimum $25 payment, it would take ten years to pay off, including nearly $400 in interest paid, almost doubling the cost of the holidays."
44% of study recipients say are "stressed out about it", the report states.
Many consumers are now dealing with the holiday shopping hangover, now that we are in January, with the big credit card bills now coming in. Americans have gone from "it's the most wonderful time of the year" to arguably the worst time of the year in just a matter of weeks. For many, making even the minimum payments to their credit card companies is very difficult, if not impossible.
To clear your head, and your debt burden, you need to know where you stand, says Ryan Sasson, CEO of New York City-based Strategic Financial Solutions, a debt relief services firm that specializes in curbing credit card debt.
"Understand, as a first step, what your debts really are," he explains. "List them on paper, so you can review them clearly. See who the creditors are, the total amount you owe, what the minimum payments are and payment percentages required every month so you can figure out what you owe, their interest rates and their due dates."
Once you understand that, you then need to understand what you have at the end of the month to pay these bills. "List your revenue coming in," Sasson says. "Then add your core expenses - the ones you can't live without: rent, utilities, car, school, food, etc."
Being prompt with payments is an equally important step. "Make sure you pay all these credit card statements on time," says Jeanne Kelly, a credit coach and founder of the personal financial website ReadyForGoodCredit.com. "Often you might have even opened a new store credit card account for that sign up discount and then you forget you even did that. So, make sure you get that first statement. Often, it could have been a typo for a mailing address or you could get the statement and think its junk mail because it doesn't look familiar."
Kelly also advises pulling your credit report. "It doesn't matter if you don't need credit to check your credit report," she says. "You want to always make sure it is reporting accurate information."
Conor Keenan, compliance officer and digital media specialist at Comparecards.com, says one of the best tools consumers who overstretched their wallets this holiday season can use to pay off their debt is to get another credit card. "It's counter-intuitive," he admits. "However, there are many credit cards that offer 0% interest for a number of months, some up to 21 months. By transferring your balance to these cards you can save hundreds of dollars in interest over the long run."
Another good tip - make sure you pay off your highest interest rate credit cards first.
"Check the interest rates on each card, and pay them off in the order of highest rate to lowest rate," says Rebecca Schreiber, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Pure Financial Education near Washington, D.C. "Research is key, as many people don't know -- or don't want to know -- what they're really paying regarding interest rates."
"It's also essential to automate these payments as much as possible to keep your credit score healthy and lenders interested in doing business with you," Schreiber adds.
You've got to pay the piper after a big holiday spending binge. Use the tips above to recover, quickly and effectively.