Friday, December 14, 2012

Managing Holiday Credit Card Debt

Imagine yourself at a department store. You are approaching the check out. How are you going to pay for this purchase? Are you using your debit card because you planned your holiday spending? Or are you using your credit cards because your only plan is to spend and eventually pay it back?

When it comes down to holiday spending, we have a choice.

Choice #1: We can go into the holidays financially blind and spend to our heart’s content and put our heads in the sand and deal with it in the New Year. This is the way a lot of people approach the holidays and they pay for it monetarily and emotionally. Not only that, but their credit scores take a hit as their credit card balances rise. Their monthly costs go up because the minimum payments on their cards increase due to larger balances. This reduces their spending power until they pay off some of that holiday debt!

Choice #2: Go into the holidays with a spending plan that let’s you buy thoughtful gifts for your family and friends but does not allow you to break the bank. That is really the best course of action. A plan is always better than winging it and winging it with money is never a good idea. To make this action effective, you have to save before the holidays come. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking to a savings account.

Next year in January, you may want to open a “Christmas or Holiday Club” account for your holiday savings if your bank or credit union still offers that. The old club accounts had money automatically transferred from your checking account and was cashed in before the holidays and paid out to the accountholder to pay for gifts. Lacking a “Christmas Club” type of account? Open a savings especially for your holiday spending and set up an automatic transfer from your checking account each month. The automatic transfer happens without any action on your part. Just remember to enter it in your check register or monitor your online banking so you don’t overdraw your checking. When the holidays are here, draw the funds from your savings and spend it to your heart’s content.

If you must use credit to pay for your gift giving, let’s consider some things that might save us some money. Let’s assume you plan to pay this newly incurred balance off in six months. How much do you plan to spend on gifts? That’s the starting point. Take that amount and divide it by six and add that to your current monthly payment on that card. Can you afford that payment monthly for the next six months? Then you may have the right amount to spend on gifts. Is it too high? You need to adjust your spending plan, not your time horizon for pay off! Remember, extending the pay off time for any balance adds more interest to your debt. Paying interest is like renting money. Who benefits when you pay interest? Certainly not me or you. The bank does! If this sounds like a good idea, you use way too much credit and need an intervention!

But, if you really like making that monthly payment and the cost is no object for you, then you might be more inclined to take Choice #1.

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Our next financial education workshop will be “Real World Budgets for Teens” and will be presented at our Chesbro Main Office on January 16th at 6:30pm. Real World Budgets takes a teen and their parents thru a post college simulation of managing money, a job, and the payments that come with independence. I hope you can join us.

Please RSVP with Greg Meyer at or 408-365-6328.

Click here for a list of all of our financial education offerings.

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