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3-On Your Side: Last Minute Holiday Debt Advice

jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – With all the sales and the holiday cheer, it’s easy to go a little overboard on gifts for your loved ones this time of year. But, for many people, all that spending comes with a pile of debt in the new year. 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan takes a look at how you and your family can have a great holiday, without paying for it through 2012.

As of today nearly $32 billion dollars has been spent online this holiday season. That’s 15 percent over last year. Often it’s the last few days before Christmas that people lose control. Budgets are blown as shoppers pick up extra items, and add people to their gift lists.

The worst present you can give yourself for the holidays is more debt. Don’t buy the hype that you need to add to last year’s debt this year. No sale, no hot holiday toy, no impulse purchase is worth it at 20 percent interest on your credit card. So if you can’t afford it, put it down. Gail Cunningham with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling says, “In a perfect world, you would never charge more than you could pay in full when the bill arrived. Worst case scenario, plan to pay it out no longer than three months.”

The National Foundation for Credit Counseling surveyed shoppers and found 56 percent had no idea where they spent their money by the end of the month. Cunningham says, “We work very hard for our money, and then we spend it very casually. You will never know where the leaks are until you write down every single cent you spend for 30 days. Seeing your spending staring back at you in black and white is a real wake-up call.”

Credit card debt is particularly unforgiving — even with new protections. So aim to pay it off. The best boost to your credit score is paying off big amounts of debt and then paying on time, every time with the card after that. You might not be aware of it, but a missed credit card payment stays on your credit history for seven years.

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