Personal finance

More Americans took on holiday debt this season, owing an average $1,249

More Americans got into the spirit this holiday, even if it meant spending more than they could afford.

Between buying presents, plane tickets and party supplies, 36% of consumers went into debt, owing an average of $1,249, according to a survey by LendingTree.

Most holiday borrowers with debt put it on their credit cards, although for the first time, nearly 40% of Americans used so-called buy now, pay later financing to spread out their expenses, the report found, which polled more than 2,000 adults from Dec. 14 to Dec. 20.

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Buy now pay later has exploded in popularity with the rise in online shopping during the pandemic; however, studies show installment buying could encourage consumers to spend more than they can afford.

Although these programs let shoppers break their purchases into equal payments, often interest-free, there could be late fees, deferred interest or other penalties if you miss a payment.

Credit cards, on the other hand, are one of the most expensive ways to borrow; with interest rates of more than 16%, on average. If you have bad credit, you’ll pay even more: Roughly one-quarter of borrowers have an APR between 20% and 29%, LendingTree found, while 9% had an APR higher than 30%.

By the end of the holiday season, Americans are on track to have $70 billion more in credit card debt and balances are expected to rise even higher in 2022 as consumers continue to increase their spending, according to a separate forecast by TransUnion.

Usually, card balances decline in the beginning of the year as borrowers pay off their holiday purchases.

This time, paying down debt will be a challenge, most said. In fact, 82% of those with holiday debt won’t pay it off within a month, LendingTree found, despite sky-high interest charges.

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