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Will December credit card spending bring January remorse?

November 26, 2012

| Money Rates Columnist

While Frank Sinatra may have crooned about having a "merry little Christmas," retailers estimate many consumers may be planning a merry large Christmas with respect to holiday shopping.

The National Retail Federation forecasts holiday spending will see a 4.1 percent bump this year to a total of $586.1 billion. That's an average of $749.51 per holiday shopper.

Meanwhile, a recent analysis from TransUnion finds credit card debt and delinquencies are on the rise. Although the increase correlates with a pattern from 2011 in which credit card debt increased and then decreased, should the upward trend continue, it may indicate trouble for those planning to use plastic to fund this year's festivities.

Joy in December, regret in January?

Unfortunately, many shoppers may end up overspending. According to a survey from Oxygen Media, 47 percent of adults say they have spent more than they could afford for the holidays. In addition, 36 percent report going into credit card debt to finance their gift giving.

Those numbers may be worrisome in light of the recent TransUnion report, which found credit card debt and delinquencies rose in the third quarter of 2012. The delinquency rate -- which tracks the percentage of borrowers more than 90 days late on their accounts -- rose to 0.75 percent in the third quarter.

Credit card debt also climbed 4.91 percent from the previous year. The average debt per borrower now stands at $4,996. While 2011 debt statistics saw a similar increase in debt and delinquencies followed by a decline, the numbers could continue to rise if consumers overextend their wallets this holiday season.

Keeping credit card spending in check

While some consumers prefer to use credit cards for their convenience or to earn rewards, paying with plastic can make it easy for shoppers to lose track of their budget.

To avoid splurging, consumers can use strategies such as using their credit cards to purchase gift cards or prepaid cards that fit their budget. Those cards can then be used for buying gifts. In addition, before hitting the stores, shoppers should check their card's billing information to determine how long they have to pay off the balance before interest charges start to accrue.

TransUnion also offers the following advice:

  • Double check credit card rates and current credit card debt before shopping
  • Monitor credit reports to ensure information is accurate
  • Be aware that opening new accounts, such as applying for retail store cards to get discounts, can cause a temporary dip in credit scores

Should consumers find they have overspent and are unable to pay off their balance in full, transferring balances to a credit card with a zero-interest introductory period may be one strategy to minimize costs while paying off the debt.

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