Holiday knick-knacks stand are displayed for Christmas shoppers Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, at a Lowes store in Northglenn, Colo. Add last-minute holiday shopping to the list of time-honored traditions being upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Retailers are kicking off the holiday season earlier than ever this year in hopes of avoiding big in-store crowds and shipping bottlenecks in November and December. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Holiday knick-knacks stand are displayed for Christmas shoppers Friday, Oct. 2, 2020, at a Lowes store in Northglenn, Colo. Add last-minute holiday shopping to the list of time-honored traditions being upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Retailers are kicking off the holiday season earlier than ever this year in hopes of avoiding big in-store crowds and shipping bottlenecks in November and December. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Millennial Money: De-stress holiday debt with a payoff plan

Take stock of what you owe – and what you can pay

In a holiday season that many of us will spend apart from loved ones, gift-giving might feel even more important than usual. After all, if you can’t travel to see family, at least you can see them unwrap gifts over a video call, right?

And just as many families will use a video service for holiday celebrations this year, many will also turn to credit cards to cover their expressions of love. Three-quarters of holiday shoppers are planning to use credit cards to purchase gifts this year, according to a NerdWallet survey of 2,049 U.S. adults conducted online by The Harris Poll.

Using credit cards can be a great way to earn rewards or get cash back, but make sure you know how to dig out of the debt you ring up. Otherwise, you might be still paying off the debt late into next year, something 33% of 2019 holiday shoppers who used credit cards said they were still doing when surveyed in September.

Here’s how to handle holiday debt.

Take stock of what you owe – and what you can pay

First, catalogue your holiday debt. Log into each credit account and note the balance and interest rate. Consider creating a simple spreadsheet or using a debt tracker to keep accounts organized. If you have debt that’s not on a credit card, such as a shopping loan from a company like Klarna, list that, too.

With your debts sorted, turn to your budget. The 50/30/20 budget is an easy template. With this approach, half of take-home pay goes toward necessities, like housing and groceries. Then, 30% goes toward wants, like takeout or a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate bidding farewell to 2020 on New Year’s Eve. Lastly, 20% of your income goes toward debt and savings.

As you hash out your budget, pin down how much money you can allocate toward debt each month. Divide the total debt by that amount to estimate how fast you can rid yourself of debt, keeping in mind that accruing interest can increase the balances.

Focusing on what you can pay monthly helps make your debt more manageable, says Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, a Vermont-based wealth psychology expert who helps people understand the personal factors of money decisions.

“Ask what you can reasonably pay off each week or each month and really work at achieving it,” Burns Kingsbury says. “From a psychological standpoint, this helps you feel a sense of success, and the more successful you feel, the more motivated you are to continue that behaviour.”

Find your payoff path

Your best route to resolving holiday debt depends on your cash flow, credit score and personal preferences. Here are a few:

— PAY OFF THE FULL BALANCE WITH THE FIRST STATEMENT: If you have the cash, this is the fastest way to deal with debt — and the cheapest, since you avoid paying interest. According to the NerdWallet shopping survey, 35% of holiday shoppers who added credit card debt in 2019 took this approach.

— ROLL A SNOWBALL OR KICK OFF AN AVALANCHE: The “debt snowball” and “debt avalanche” are two popular debt payoff methods. Which is right for you depends on your financial priorities.

With the debt snowball method, you focus on paying off the smallest balance first, then roll the amount you were paying on that first debt into the next largest. The amount you’re paying on the focus debt keeps growing, like a snowball rolling downhill. You might choose this if you need the early wins from paying off the first accounts to keep you motivated.

The debt avalanche method may be best if you want to pay as little in interest as possible. With this route, you prioritize paying off the debt with the highest interest rate first, regardless of balance size. Again, when that first debt is done, you put the amount you were paying on that into the next highest interest account, repeating until you’re debt-free.

— CONSIDER A BALANCE TRANSFER CARD: To avoid costly credit card interest, look into taking out a balance transfer credit card with a 0% APR promotional period, says Mike Cocco, an Equitable financial adviser based in Nutley, New Jersey.

“Once you have that, you’re eliminating interest, which can allow you to pay off debt a lot quicker,” Cocco says. “Then, be cognizant of when the 0% APR period runs out and work backwards to create a reverse Christmas Club for paying off your debt. If you have $1,000 on the card and 12 months interest-free, you have to pay at least $83 a month.”

To get a 0% balance transfer offer, you’ll need good to excellent credit. In general, that means a score of 690 or higher, although credit scores alone don’t guarantee approval. Issuers will look at your income, existing debts and other information.

Regardless of which debt payoff method you choose, the important thing is to find a plan and commit to it. Taking decisive action to resolve your debt can ensure you are debt-free faster — and maybe let you start building up savings for the 2021 holiday season.

Sean Pyles Of Nerdwallet, The Associated Press

Just Posted

This rendering shows the proposed warehouse for lands under the authority of the Victoria Airport Authority near a Sidney residential neighbourhood. (York Realty/Submitted)
Sidney asked to show patience about identity of would-be warehouse operator

President of York Realty says nobody is trying to hide anything

Saanich police reported an increase in violent crimes and a drop in traffic incidents in the first three months of 2021 compared to the final quarter of 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich police report increase in violent crimes during first quarter of 2021

More domestic violence, less property crime and distracted driving compared to end of 2020

Donna Brower (left) and her daughter Carol Anne Penner, members of the Silver Swans – a quilting group of 12 ladies who meet at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary – with a mountain of masks they sewed. (Photo submitted by Julia Dawson)
Saanich quilting group nabs first prize in Volunteer BC photo contest

Silver Swans sewing club raised more than $12,000 for Swan Lake nature sanctuary

The City of Victoria is proposing a northern contraction from Haultain Street to Bay Street with a western contraction from Cook Street to Chambers Street for Fernwood. (Illustration/Google Maps)
Community association calls for input on Victoria boundary changes

City of Victoria proposes changes to neighbourhood borders

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
BREAKING: Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Tinder, an online dating application that allows users to anonymously swipe to like or dislike other’s profiles. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. man granted paternity test to see if Tinder match-up led to a ‘beautiful baby’

The plaintiff is seeking contact with the married woman’s infant who he believes is his child

Nurse Tami Arnold prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine. (Kareem Elgazzar/AP)
B.C. adults 30+ now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19

Health officials made the announcement Wednesday afternoon

Ancient Forest Alliance campaigner Andrea Inness walks beside an enormous western red cedar stump in a BCTS-issued cutblock in the Nahmint Valley. (PHOTO COURTESY TJ WATT)
Watchdog: logging practices put Vancouver Island old growth, biodiversity at risk

Forest Practices Board has issues with BC Timber Sales practices in Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni

Erik Christian Oun, who worked for the Coquitlam school district, has had his teaching licence suspended for half a year. (Pixabay)
B.C. teacher suspended after calling students ‘cutie’ and ‘sweetheart’ in online messages

Erik Oun’s licence has been suspended for half a year, a decision made by the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

Scenes like this one in the dugout are all too frequent for parents and kids arriving to play baseball at Nunns Creek Park these days, spurring a request to the city to let them move to the Sportsplex in Willow Point. Photo from CRMB presentation to City of Campbell River
Needles, feces and the unhoused send Island kids baseball program to greener pastures

Campbell River minor baseball program switches ballparks over growing safety concerns

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

Most Read