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Thanks to a quick succession of major holidays — like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other fall and winter holidays — it might feel like the “holiday season” is turning into “debt season.” Bankrate’s holiday shopping survey found that 27 percent of holiday shoppers will go into debt for holiday spending. And half of holiday shoppers will start their shopping by Halloween.
This time of year does such a great job of thinning our wallets that sailing through the joyous times often becomes a feat of survival. But, fear not. While making financial mistakes during the holiday season may cost you more than it would during the calmer months of the year, there are ways to stay on top of your financial health. Below, we’ll explore a few scary financial situations to be mindful of — and how to avoid them.
Credit card debt
Problem: Credit card debt is never a good thing, but it’s even worse during the holiday season when you have to spend more money on gifts, food, decorations and other items.
Solution: Investigate the options of paying debt off or paying it down.
While paying off credit card debt may sound like wishful thinking, it’s not. At least, it’s not until you exhaust the options that might be available to you. One of the best ways to pay down any high-interest credit card debt is through a 0 percent APR credit card. There are many cards that offer a 0 percent intro APR for both purchases and balance transfers for up to 21 months.
So, if you’re eligible for new credit, you may be able to get almost two years to pay off your balance. Granted, this method is not for everyone, and you have to be disciplined to avoid making new debt. Of course, there are other ways to pay off your credit card debt too, including debt consolidation loans and more.
Missing a credit card payment
Problem: In a holiday haze, you forgot the due date and missed a payment.
Solution: Don’t beat yourself up. Seriously. You’re generally not going to lose your credit standing for one late payment — as long as you fix it as soon as possible.
If you discover your mistake quickly (such as a few days or weeks after the due date), just go ahead and send the payment. Even then, the bank will most likely just impose a late fee or charge interest on your credit card balance. Neither of these penalties will hurt you too much, and your bank likely won’t report your late payment to a credit bureau as long as you make a payment within 30 days of the due date. Some banks might even give you up to 60 days before reporting a late payment, but it’s best to not roll those dice.
If you have an otherwise excellent payment record, you might be able to get a late fee or interest waived. Just call the bank, explain what happened and politely request that any late fees or interest be waived as a one-time courtesy (but only after you send the payment).
Dipping into your emergency fund
Problem: This holiday season feels like an emergency, so you’re going to dip into your emergency fund.
Solution: It might feel like an emergency, but it’s not. Start building a holiday fund instead.
You have an emergency fund for a reason — and if you don’t, you should. Experts recommend that you have access to at least three months of expenses in case something goes seriously wrong — like health issues, loss of employment, car trouble, etc. Holiday shopping doesn’t count.
Avoid dipping into your emergency savings unless you’re facing a real emergency. Instead, consider building a holiday fund that will get you through the holiday season and help you avoid the financial component of the post-holiday blues. (Yes, that’s a real thing.)
Problem: You’ve learned that you’ve become an identity theft victim.
Solution: Take a deep breath. There are well-outlined steps that will help you out of this scary situation.
In 2021, the Bureau of Justice Statistics published its “Victims of Identity Theft, 2018” report. According to the report, “an estimated 23 million persons, or about 9 [percent] of all United States residents age 16 or older, reported that they had been victims of identity theft during the prior 12 months.”
So in 2018 alone, 9 percent of U.S. residents age 16 or older were victims of ID theft — that’s scary. But there’s more to these stats: “Five percent of residents age 16 or older had experienced at least one incident involving the misuse of an existing credit card, and 4 [percent] had experienced the misuse of an existing bank account.” However, it’s important to note that “less than 1 [percent] had experienced the misuse of their personal information for other fraudulent purposes, such as for getting medical care, a job, or governmental benefits.”
If you’re a victim of identity theft, there are several steps you should take in order to quickly neutralize the threat and minimize the damage to your financial well-being. And thankfully, you’re almost never responsible for fraudulent use of your credit card or bank account. However, you are responsible for reporting credit card fraud to your financial institution as soon as you uncover it.
The bottom line
Holidays are stressful enough on their own, and getting affected by other financial worries only compounds any issues that already exist. What you can do, however, is treat some of these worries as a challenge to do better. Take the time to tackle your credit card debt or start a holiday fund.
While there is no surefire way to avoid identity theft, it’s a good idea to use this experience to start monitoring your credit. And if you make a simple mistake like paying a bill late, just get it fixed quickly and be done with it.