According to numbers for the 2018 holiday shopping season, American shoppers incurred an average debt of just over $1,000. And not everyone could pay that debt off quickly, leading to expensive, long-term credit card debt for some.
But holiday shopping debt isn’t the only financial burden people face. Many enter the season with other debt. If that’s you, don’t let debt ruin the holidays. Instead, consider some of these tips to manage debt before the holidays so you can enjoy the festivities with reduced stress.
1. Find Out Exactly Where You Stand Financially
Before you create a plan to tackle your debt, ensure you’re accounting for all of it. According to a 2019 study, around one in five adult Americans weren’t sure if they had credit card debt when asked.
Even if you think you have a handle on your debt, it’s a good idea to give your reports a once-over. This lets you ensure you didn’t miss something important and that no one has used your identity to run up debt in your name. That could come as a nasty surprise if you try to use or obtain credit for holiday shopping.
You can get a free copy of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Normally, you can get one per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. But because of assistance measures put in place for COVID-19, you can get a free copy from each bureau every week through April 2021. You can also get a free Credit Report Card from Credit.com, which includes your Experian VantageScore 3.0 and regular updates on what is affecting your scores.
2. Create a Monthly Budget
Once you know everything you owe, sit down and take a look at your monthly budget. List all of your regular expenses and decide where you can cut to help put more money toward your debt.
Use tools such as credit card debt calculators to determine how much you should pay every month on debt to reduce it in a certain amount of time. This helps you understand how much money you should be putting toward debt to pay it off before the holidays arrive.
3. Choose a Method for Paying Down Debt
Every situation is different, so the way you pay down debt depends on what might work best for your situation. Here are a few tips to consider.
Go with a Basic Snowball Method
The Snowball Method means you line up all your debts by total balance. You make a minimum payment on each while throwing anything extra at the debt with the smallest balance. You do so because you’ll be able to pay off that one the fastest.
Once you pay off the first debt, you take everything you were putting on it each month and add it to what you’re paying on the next-smallest balance. As you pay off each debt, you have more money to put toward the next one. By the time you reach the biggest debt, you can pay it off fairly quickly.
Make Use of Balance Transfer Cards
If it’s not realistic to pay down all of your debt before the holidays, you might want to concentrate on getting your finances in order and ensuring your debt costs as little as possible. One way to do that is to make use of a balance transfer card.
These cards let you transfer existing high-interest credit card debt to a card that has 0% APR for a period of time. If you can pay the debt off within that time—which can range from a year to two years on average—you can save a lot in interest.
Consider Taking Out a Personal Loan to Consolidate Debt
If you’re dealing with high-interest debt or payments that simply add up to more than you can handle every month, you might consider a personal loan to consolidate debt. A debt consolidation loan doesn’t get rid of your debt, but it might make it more manageable. You might end up with a single monthly payment that reduces how much you must worry about during the holidays.
4. Set a Holiday Budget and Stick to It
Once you have a plan for dealing with your existing debt, ensure you don’t re-create it with your holiday spending this year. Spend smart during the holidays. Make a list of what you want to do, the meals and treats you want to make, and the gifts you want to buy.
Assign everything on your list a dollar amount, and then take another look. Can you realistically afford all of this? You might need to make some priority decisions and reduce your list to fit a holiday budget you can afford without racking up too much debt this season.
5. Use Credit to Your Advantage
If you don’t let debt ruin the holidays, you might be able to use credit as a financial tool to your advantage as you shop or participate in festivities. The right rewards credit cards help you earn points or miles as you spend—and you can earn even more points for spending in certain categories.
For example, you might have a cash-back credit card that gives you more cash back in the final quarter of the year on travel or grocery shopping. You could use that card to fund expenses as you go visit relatives or prepare a feast when they come to your home.
If you spend on your card only what you were going to spend with cash anyway, you can pay your balances off immediately. That means you get those rewards without any interest cost for doing so. If you don’t have a rewards credit card, you can find options to consider in the Credit.com credit card marketplace. Here are a couple to start with.
Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express
Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within the first 3 months.
- 6% Cash Back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).
- 6% Cash Back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions.
- 3% Cash Back at U.S. gas stations and on transit (including taxis/rideshare, parking, tolls, trains, buses and more).
- 1% Cash Back on other purchases.
- Low intro APR: 0% for 12 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
- Plan It® gives the option to select purchases of $100 or more to split up into monthly payments with a fixed fee.
- Cash Back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
- $95 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
Card Details +
This card gives you 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 per year in purchases. You can also get 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations and transit, making it a potentially good card to use when you’re traveling. The Blue Cash Preferred® card allows you to earn a $250 statement credit after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard
Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® Credit Card
- 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 12 months; after that the variable APR will be 12.90% – 22.90% (V), based on your creditworthiness
- Earn $150 Statement Credit after you spend $1,200 on purchases within the first 90 days from account opening
- Earn 5x rewards on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories such as dining, groceries, travel, and automotive
- No upper limit on the points you can accumulate, and since points never expire, you can save up for a big award!
- Earn Points on Every Purchase! It’s simple: $1 = 1 Point
- No Annual Fee or Foreign Transaction Fee
- Select Your Rewards Your Way
- No Foreign Transaction Fee
Card Details +
The Amalgamated Bank of Chicago Platinum Rewards Mastercard® allows you to earn 5X rewards up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter in popular categories. Categories include dining, groceries, fuel, travel, and other popular spending areas. If you’ll be spending in a certain category during the holidays, you could earn extra rewards points to redeem on travel or other purchases.
It’s never too early or too late to start planning financially for big seasons such as the holidays. If you’re ready to take a step toward that plan today, consider signing up for ExtraCredit. Reward It from ExtraCredit connects you with personalized offers and offers cashback rewards when you sign up and are approved for them.