4 Ways to Avoid the Holiday Credit Hangover

The past couple of weeks have been filled with holiday parties and eggnog and turkey and gifts and good cheer. If you are like most people, you might have reached for an extra serving of turkey or grabbed an extra cookie when no one was looking. But now that the indulgence is over, something else is about to strike: the holiday credit hangover.

Will you suffer from it?

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, many people pulled out their credit cards to buy the perfect gifts for all of the people on their list, and the perfect outfits to wear to the parties… and let’s not forget the mountains of food that were purchased for those big family get-togethers.

But now, many people will start to feel the sting of the holiday credit hangover when their generous spending has now come due: Those gifts and outfits and food purchases paid for by credit cards now need to be paid off. The credit hangover will hurt when you get your first credit card bills in January. If they aren’t paid off, they will hurt worse when you get your credit card bills in February, March and for as long as it takes to pay them off.

So how can you avoid a holiday credit hangover? Here are four ways to take action right now:

Create a “pay-off-those-Christmas-bills-ASAP” budget. While you might have a budget already (you should have one!), these holiday bills could require a slight modification of your budget to pour more money into paying them off sooner. That means fewer dinners out with friends or fewer extra large frappe-mocha-latte-espressos from your favorite gourmet coffee shop. It’s a short-term sacrifice to ensure that you don’t feel the long-term pain of higher interest or late payment notices.

Pay some of your bills right now, before you get a credit card statement. This is a great way to soften the blow. If you can put aside a few dollars now, even before your credit card statement arrives in the mail, it will be like a little gift to yourself when you open your bill and know that it is less than what is printed because you proactively sent some money in already.

Review your credit card statements when you get them in the mail. When your bill arrives, take a close look at it. Can you account for everything? Make sure that you know what each item is and investigate the unknowns carefully. Compare against your receipts and ensure that you were charged the right amount. This is also a quick way to make sure that an identity thief isn’t trying to bury one of their purchases in a long list of your purchases.

Pay your credit card bills in full as quickly as possible. The worst part of the holiday credit hangover is if a credit card bill can’t be paid in full in January. That extra interest charged on the remaining balance in February (and March, etc.) can suddenly make the festive holidays seem much less joyous, and far more expensive. And remember that it’s better to make a minimum payment than to avoid the debt altogether, which can damage your credit score and raise your interest rate to the penalty APR.

This past holiday season was a time to build wonderful memories with your family and friends. But now that the new year is here, it’s time to take immediate action to make sure that the holiday season remains a wonderful memory and doesn’t lead to a holiday credit hangover.

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