The debt counselors at Consumer Credit Counseling Services have seen it all – stories of regular families like yours and mine that have been pushed into desperate circumstances because of snowballing debt that took over their lives.
The holidays, charged with emotion and focused on gift giving, are the time of year when families are most vulnerable to the devastation overspending can bring.
“Holiday overspending can often be the tipping point for folks who are marginally managing their household budgets,” said Paul Atkinson, president and CEO of CCCS of Buffalo. “There is no joy in the lingering pain of overspending.”
The ghost of Christmas purchases past can haunt you well into the future.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind this holiday season, courtesy of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
1. When credit card debt rolls over from one month to another, you lose your grace period and interest begins accruing immediately, even on new purchases. If you can’t afford to pay your credit cards off completely before interest is charged, you might consider not using credit cards for those purchases at all.
2. Compound interest is a great thing when you’re earning it on savings, but not when you’re paying it on debt. When you carry debt from month to month, you will end up paying interest on top of interest. That makes it very difficult to climb out of debt in the future.
3. Late and over-limit fees can negate any savings snagged on even the greatest of Black Friday deals. Late payments can result in a $25 fee and an increased interest rate.
4. Racking up holiday debt on credit cards means less credit will be available in cases of emergency. No one plans to get sick or for their car to break down, but when that happens (and it will), you want to have enough space on your card to serve as a safety net.
5. Even if you have the best intentions of paying your credit card bills in full and on time, things happen. Late or missed payments will put a negative mark on your credit report that will stay there for seven whole years. Depending on whatever else is going on and how long your bills are delinquent, your credit score could drop by as much as 100 points.
6. Now that employers, insurers and others use credit checks, credit mishaps could have serious consequences beyond your ability to borrow money. You could be turned down for a job, charged more for insurance, denied an apartment or have trouble setting up cellphone or utility services.
7. The more money you’re devoting to debt and interest payments, the less you have for savings or investments.
8. Having credit card debt can seriously impact your quality of life. It can result in aggressive and harassing collection efforts, lawsuits, judgments and wage garnishments. Money problems are leading causes of personal stress and divorce.
9. Debt can snowball to unmanageable levels and quickly lead to desperate choices that have negative consequences, such as payday loans, pawn shops, bankruptcy or debt settlement.
10. The best gift you can give your family is health and happiness. Stable finances can go a long way toward ensuring both.