Consumer Alert: Paying off holiday shopping debts

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With the holiday season over, many are starting 2018 with more debt than they bargained for.

A survey finds that shoppers charged about 5 percent more this holiday season than previous years. More than half of those surveyed say that they will still be paying off the bills by the spring.

But consumer experts say that there are some ways to cut down the post-holiday financial troubles.

Certified financial planner Paul Oster says that consumers should come up with a plan to pay off their debts.

“You should focus on one credit card at a time, the one with the highest interest rate,” he says. “It’s called debt stacking. Mathematically proven.”

But what if you have a lot of credit cards, and just making the minimum payment is hard?

Experts recommend an approach called “pyramiding.” Consumers should pay off the card with the smallest balance first; this will free up some money, which can then bus used to pay off cards with a bigger balance. Consumers should keep doing this until all the debt is paid.

Oster cautions consumers against looking for a quick fix to pay off debts. He says that they should avoid using companies that offer to settle debt for less than is owed.

“You would actually have to let your cards go into default. They would settle with them for 4- to 50 cents on the dollar. But think about the effect that will have on your credit score.”

The average family has more than $8,000 in credit card debt, according to the federal government. It would take 10 years to pay off that balance if only minimum payments are made.

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