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“Ho, ho—help!” stories on paying off holiday debt

January 10, 2018

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Helping consumers pay down holiday debt is a great topic for a January business story. (Image by "schuldnerhilfe" via Pixabay, CCO Creative Commons)
Helping consumers pay down holiday debt is a great topic for a January business story. (Image by "schuldnerhilfe" via Pixabay, CCO Creative Commons)

According to a November 2017 survey from the National Retail Federation, U.S. shoppers planned to spend an average of nearly $1,000 ($967.13) this Christmas, most of it paid for on credit. But more than half of U.S. consumers who bought gifts on credit in 2016 incurred debt, and about a quarter either didn’t make a budget or went over their budget, reports the personal finance site NerdWallet in their 2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report. The worst offenders? Millennials, who admitted that they haven’t paid off their credit card bills from the Christmas before. Holiday credit card spending only adds to the average credit card debt of $16,883 that U.S. households carry, which makes this story a timely one for business reporters to develop in January.

Plan to pay down holiday debt

The first step to managing debt is adding up how much was spent at Christmas. Consumers need to record what they spent and commit to a plan, say personal finance experts. Most recommend paying off the highest-balance card first, but financial guru Dave Ramsey favors a contrarian approach: adopting the “debt snowball” approach to pay off the lowest card first, because it builds momentum and motivates consumers to keep going. Knowing which type of card to pay off first is also critical; pay off a low- or zero-interest card before the introductory period ends. For this story, interview a few local financial advisors or a debt counselor for their advice.

Set up a budget for Q1

Experts say that the first three months of the year are critical to avoid carrying last year’s holiday debt into this year, and that means following a budget. Develop this angle by presenting a graphic of a budget worksheet in your story—or make it the story. Also interview several readers in your circulation area for their tips on how they’ve succeeded at squeezing money out of their budget.

Think twice about paying for help           

Avoid debt settlement companies that offer to reduce—or even erase—high credit card debt, says the Federal Trade Commission. These for-profit companies typically charge high fees, and their advice can lower a consumer’s credit score, the agency warns. The FTC offers a listing of reputable credit counseling agencies, and advises consumers to also check a company’s record with their state attorney general and consumer protection bureau. The agency says consumers should consider how to “get out of the red without spending a lot of green,” which sounds like a solid story for business reporters to develop by interviewing readers about how they plan to meet that challenge.

Reporter’s Resources

At the National Retail Federation, Ana Serafin Smith, 202-626-8189; press@nrf.com,

At the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Bruce McClary, 202-780-5432.

At the FTC, Frank Dorman, Consumer Fraud & Debt Collection, 202-326-2674; fdorman@ftc.gov.


  • Dorianne Perrucci

    Since 2001, Dorianne's freelance bylines have appeared in leading print and digital news outlets, including The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger and NJ Biz. During the financial crisis of 2007-2009, Do...

    View all posts

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