U.S. News surveyed U.S. consumers in November 2019 about their holiday spending plans, asking how much they plan to spend, how they plan to make purchases and whether they’re expecting to carry debt after the holidays. About 33% of respondents said they plan to use a credit card as their primary method of payment for holiday shopping, but most consumers aren’t planning to take on debt for holiday expenses.

Just under half of U.S. consumers plan to spend less than $499 on holiday expenses.

About 48% of respondents said they are planning to spend less than $499 on gifts, food, travel and decorations. Less than 8% said they plan to spend $3,000 or more.

Many consumers plan to shop for the holidays with major retailers.

About a third of consumers said they plan to do most of their holiday shopping with major online retailers. Small businesses are a holiday shopping focus for 17% of shoppers, followed by brick-and-mortar stores and small online retailers.

Most consumers plan to use cards for holiday shopping.

Credit cards are the primary method of payment for about 33% of holiday shoppers, followed by debit cards for about 30%. Others plan to use cash, digital wallet or payment apps, or checks.

Consumers plan to use credit cards for holiday spending primarily to earn rewards, though few are targeting new sign-up bonus offers. Using credit cards is just a matter of course for some, as about 22% of consumers usually use them for purchases. About 11% plan to use credit cards for holiday spending to take advantage of fraud protection.

Credit card rewards redemption isn’t a top priority for most consumers this holiday season. Just 22% said they plan to redeem their credit card rewards for holiday expenses.

Debt is not part of the plan for most holiday shoppers.

Only about 8% of consumers plan to carry a balance after the holidays. About 48% plan to pay off credit card balances at once, and 29% aren’t using a credit card for holiday costs at all.

Few consumers plan to take out a holiday loan. Less than 4% said they’re turning to a home equity loan, less than 3% a personal loan and just more than 1% plan to use a payday or title loan.

About 44% of consumers are going into the holidays without any revolving credit card debt, though 22% said they don’t know how much debt they have. Only 8% have more than $10,000 in revolving credit card debt.

Some consumers are preparing their finances for holiday shopping.

Budgeting, making a holiday shopping list, and comparing prices and sales are the top ways consumers plan to prepare for holiday shopping. About 9% are earning extra money before the holidays. But about 36% said they aren’t taking these tried-and-true steps to make holiday expenses easier on their budget.

A majority of consumers surveyed (about 60%) said they’ve either started saving for holiday expenses or have saved all they’ll need for the holidays. But about 40% said they don’t have any money saved for the holidays.

Credit cards aren’t the only way to pay for holiday expenses, but they can be a convenient and safe option. You could also take advantage of credit card rewards and benefits that offer perks to complement your planned spending.

Credit cards may offer protections and other features that come in handy during the holiday season. These include:

Fraud protection. Every card purchase puts you at risk for fraud, as thieves can steal your card information online or even when you use your card in person. Fraud on a debit card can be much more damaging than on a credit card. For one, a debit card offers direct access to your checking account, so that can put a pinch on your finances in the short term while your bank sorts out the theft. But with credit cards, you’re liable for no more than $50 in fraudulent charges, and in many cases, you’ll have zero liability. Fraud on a debit card could put you on the hook for up to $500 in charges.

Extended warranty protection. Buying big-ticket electronics? The retailer will likely ask if you want to purchase an extended warranty for it. If your credit card offers this coverage, you can confidently say no and save money without missing out on protection.

Price protection. Price fluctuations are common around the holidays as retailers compete. Prices might go down after you make your purchase. If your credit card offers price protection, you could be reimbursed if an item’s price is lowered shortly after your purchase. Though this benefit is fairly rare, if can be valuable.

Introductory offers. Cards with a 0% APR offer can give you time to pay for holiday purchases interest free, usually at least 12 months. While this could be a risky move if you’re not able to pay off the balance before interest applies, it can help you manage expenses if you go into it with a plan to pay off in time.

Rewards. The holidays are a season of giving, but there’s nothing wrong with earning a little something for yourself. A rewards credit card can help you turn holiday expenses into cash back, travel and other rewards you can use later.

Travel perks. Planning to travel this holiday season? Benefits from a travel card can make the hustle and bustle of holiday travel easier. Travel credit cards may come with benefits such as free checked bags, airport lounge access, hotel room upgrades and travel insurance.

How Can You Get the Most Value From Your Credit Card During the Holidays?

Any credit card you choose should offer year-round value, but if you’re getting a credit card for holiday expenses, it makes sense to take your planned holiday spending into account. For example, if you plan to travel, a travel rewards card may be most useful. Or if most of your holiday shopping is done online, a card from a major online retailer could come in handy. If you prefer flexibility, a flat-rate cash back card might be the ticket.

Of course, the type of credit card you choose matters less than how you use it. After all, earning a mountain of rewards over the holidays isn’t very helpful if it comes along with a mountain of debt.

While credit cards can be useful and bring some flexibility to your holiday spending, you still need to manage holiday expenses with a plan. Use a budget and don’t spend more than you really have. It’s a good idea to track spending as you go. It’s great to offset some expenses with rewards or a sign-up bonus, but don’t forget you still need to pay that bill in January.


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