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Survey measures stress of holiday credit card debt

by Peter Andrew
Survey measures stress of holiday credit card debt

With most of it over, we can now look back over the 2011 holidays, and ask: Was it worth it? Of course, spending time with family and friends is priceless, but the season as a whole comes with a big price, not least, for many, paying for it afterwards. Two November surveys revealed just how stressful the financial aspects of the season are to many Americans.

Credit cards taking the strain…

USAA’s third annual holiday spending survey found that 48 percent of respondents were going to use their credit cards to buy holiday gifts (up from 42 percent in 2010), but surprisingly few consumers planned to clear their credit card debt immediately. As the organization’s press release put it, “Older is wiser when it comes to credit card management.” The percentage of respondents who intended to fully pay down their balances as soon as possible were:

  • 55-64 year olds: 41 percent
  • 45-54 year olds: 37 percent
  • 35-44 year olds: 34 percent
  • 18-34 year olds: 27 percent

Yep, nearly three in four young people said they were going to roll forward their card balances. USAA’s June Walbert, who’s a Certified Financial Planner, took a dim view of that. Speaking about all card users, she said in a statement:

Credit cards have many benefits, including general convenience, the ability to reap rewards, and fraud protection. However, financially responsible shoppers must remember to pay off the balance each month to avoid paying interest fees.

… or contributing to the stress?

The other November poll was conducted by CBS News. Over one-third of this survey’s respondents said that contemplating their holiday spending made them more stressed in 2011 than in previous years. That’s no surprise when you hear that 66 percent of those with household incomes under $50K a year were either somewhat or very concerned about not being able to afford the gifts they wanted to buy. Add in those with higher incomes, and you still find half of respondents with these concerns. A whopping 80 percent said they only had just enough or not enough money to buy the gifts they wanted.

Many of the 33 percent who didn’t have enough (more than half of the under-$50K category) may have taken on credit card debt to cover their shortfalls. However, that’s not always a wise move. In October, Consumer Reports found that 14.1 million Americans were then — 10 months after the festivities had ended — still paying back card debt they took on to cover holiday expenses in 2010.

Yet another poll was published just before Christmas by an organization called FreeScore.com. It’s hard to know how seriously to take its results because the press release that reported it failed to include any details of the survey’s sample size or methodology. But, for what it’s worth, it found:

  1. The average consumer spends four hours each day worrying about or thinking about debt.
  2. As many as 11 percent spend a (to this blogger, literally) incredible 10 hours a day worrying or thinking about debt.

The press release did include one indisputable fact. If you are stressed out about credit card debt (or any other sort), get advice. A good starting point is the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

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