The reality of holiday debt, one expert says there some things you can do

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — If you used your credit cards and charged up to $1,250 for those holiday gifts, you have a lot of company.

A new survey from Lending Tree says about 36% of consumers took on holiday debt this season. That’s up about 5%.

“We’ve seen that people kind of have had a tendency to blow out holidays and some events to kind of make up for how crummy the last couple of years have been,” said Matt Schulz from Lending Tree.

The survey shows up to 60% of people used credit cards. While the average debt ($1,249 this past holiday is less than the year before when average debt was $1,381) it’s still a large amount for average families to try to pay back.

“In a time like this where so many people are living paycheck to paycheck and so many people are struggling financially, it’s definitely significant,” said Schulz.

About 80% of those surveyed say they won’t be able to pay back the debt within a month. About 45% said they will try to consolidate their debt or try to transfer their balance to a lower or zero percent interest credit card.

Schulz says you’re not always stuck with a high interest rate credit card.

“One of the things that you can do that a lot of people don’t realize is that you can call your credit card issuer and ask them if they’ll lower your interest rate,” said Schulz. “Making that call can be a really good idea because your chances of success are better than you realize.”

He says more than half of people who ask for a lower rate end up getting it. A lower interest rate can save most people hundreds of dollars per year and help them pay more toward the debt balance.

Schulz also suggests checking out whether you can qualify for a zero percent interest credit card and transfer high balances to that card. He says you normally have to pay a transfer fee of 3% to 5% but even with that, you would still save money.

“These (zero interest) offers are really plentiful now and they weren’t as available as they were a year ago because banks were more cautious during the midst of the pandemic,” said Schulz. “But there are lots of cards out there now that are offering zero interest for 15 months, 18 months or even 21 months interest-free on transferred balances. And that’s a really big deal for folks who are carrying big balances.”

Schulz says debt can be overwhelming, especially this time of year. But he says there are things you can do and the best thing is to face it and make a budget.

“The last thing you should do is ignore it because all it’s going to do is get worse,” said Schulz.

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