How to avoid digging yourself deeper in debt this holiday season

There are certain traditions you probably want to keep this holiday season. Ballooning credit-card debts shouldn’t be one of them.

Yet a recent survey from CreditCards.com found that 45% of all card holders are willing to take on holiday-related credit-card debt this season.

Meanwhile, some 41% of adults who have a credit card are already in debt, according to the website’s research.

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More than half of those people — 56% — have been in debt for at least a year, while more than a third — 37% — have been carrying those balances for two years.

“Where does Christmas 2017 or Christmas 2018 really begin and end?” Ted Rossman, industry analyst at CreditCards.com, said. “If you’ve been in debt for that long, it’s kind of hard to separate what was holiday and what was not.”

There are some things you can do to start to get out from under the weight of those bills — and prevent those balances from creeping even higher this year.

Consider a 0% transfer card

There are still offers out there where you can transfer your debt to a 0% interest credit card.

That interest rate can last as long as 21 months. And you don’t necessarily have to have a stellar credit score to qualify. If your number is 670 or better, you should be able to take advantage of one of these offers, Rossman said. The average nationwide credit score is about 705.

You may also want to look for a card that does not have a transfer fee, which can be as much as 3% to 5% of the amount moved. Cards including the Chase Slate, BankAmericard and Amex EveryDay offer this feature, according to Rossman.

You should act sooner than later if you want to take advantage of such an offer, Rossman said. That’s because after three interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, credit-card companies may not be as generous with these plans as they look to make up revenue in other areas.

That could result in higher transfer fees or shorter time periods for the 0% interest period, he said.

Put your rewards to use

Often, credit-card holders are not aware of just how many points or rewards they’ve already accumulated.

A conservative estimate found that cardholders typically have the equivalent of about $340 in unused airline miles, $230 in hotel points and $160 in credit-card points, according to Rossman’s research.

“Take stock of what you may already have and, where appropriate, seek to earn more rewards on your holiday shopping,” Rossman said. “But more than anything, take advantage of what you’ve already got.”

Where does Christmas 2017 or Christmas 2018 really begin and end? If you’ve been in debt for that long, it’s kind of hard to separate what was holiday and what was not.

Ted Rossmann

industry analyst at CreditCards.com

When it comes to rewards, the best deals are often on travel, followed by cash back or gift cards, Rossman said.

One area that’s often not the best deal: merchandise, where you can end up spending more money on products than you would if you bought them on your own, Rossman said.

Think about a side hustle

Given the low unemployment rate, there are an abundant number of jobs available these days, particularly during the holidays.

“Take advantage of that robust job market,” Rossman said. “Use that extra money to help fund your holiday or pay down your debt.”

You may also want to consider selling things you already own and are not using.

“Turn some of those long-forgotten possessions into some actual cash,” Rossman said.

CreditCards.com’s online survey included 2,571 adults and was conducted in October.

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