Here’s how long it will take Americans to pay off their Christmas debt

In the days after Christmas, Americans can be found taking down the tree, cleaning up wrapping paper, and perhaps surveying the financial wreckage of another holiday season.

Shoppers in the U.S. racked up an average of $1,054 of debt this Christmas season — an increase of 5% over last year, according to a survey from MagnifyMoney, a personal finance website. It found 44% of shoppers racked up more than $1,000 in holiday debt, and 5% accumulated more than $5,000 in debt.

Bouncing back from those purchases won’t come quickly. Only half of those surveyed expected to repay the debt within 3 months — others (29%) said they need more than five months to pay it off, often leading to interest on the credit card debt and growing balances. In fact, 10% of people who took on holiday debt said they would only be able make minimum payments on credit cards. If the shopper spent $1,054, and paid a minimum payment of $25 each month, he or she would be paying down that balance until 2023. With an average interest rate of 15.9%, according to a MagnifyMoney analysis, fees on that debt could add up to $500. In August 2017, Americans hit the highest amount of credit card debt in U.S. history, at $1.021 trillion in outstanding revolving credit in June 2017.

If it seems like it will take you more than six months to pay off the debt incurred around the holidays, Robert Harrow, senior credit card analyst at Value Penguin said, consider transferring it to a low or no interest credit card.

“With a balance transfer card, consumers can focus on paying down the principal debt, and can shave off the time it will take to pay off their total debt by as much as 3 or 4 months,” he said.

The majority of Americans simply did not stick to their budgets, according to mobile banking startup Varo Money, Inc., with 74% saying they underestimated costs. Areas people go over budget on include last minute gifts (36%), regular holiday gifts (27%), food (27%), decorations (17%) and new holiday outfits (16%). The problem is particularly pronounced for millennials, said Colin Walsh, co-founder and CEO of Varo Money.

“Money is tight for everyone around the holidays and today’s millennials don’t approach banking and budgeting the way they used to,” he said. “Many millennials are “hands off” — checking their balance on a weekly basis with a general idea of how much money is coming in and going out. As a result, many will find themselves dipping into savings when they accidentally overspend over the holidays.”

But there is hope: Courtney Jespersen, consumer savings expert at personal finance site NerdWallet, said the work of Christmas shopping (and saving) isn’t necessarily finished after the holidays.

“Stay on top of your purchases,” she said. “Continue to watch prices of the items you bought even after you shopped. In some cases, you may be able to get a refund for the difference, depending on your card’s price protection feature. Getting some money back could alleviate the sting of blowing your Christmas budget.”

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