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The holiday season can be a busy time for consumers, from making travel plans to purchasing gifts for loved ones. For some Americans, this can mean spending outside their budget by adding debt to their credit card, using buy now, pay later financing or taking out personal loans.

The newest LendingTree survey found that more than a third of consumers (36%) incurred holiday debt this season, averaging $1,249.

Key findings

  • More consumers took on debt this holiday season than last, though the average amount dropped year over year for the first time since this survey began in 2015. 36% of Americans took on holiday debt this season, up from 31% in 2020. But borrowers owe an average of $1,249, down 10% from $1,381 last season. 
  • Parents with children younger than 18 and millennials were most likely to take on holiday debt, at 54% and 50%, respectively. Both groups borrowed an average of $1,462. 
  • Nearly 40% of Americans used buy now, pay later financing for holiday gifts this year. This is up slightly from 37% in 2020. This financing was most common among parents with young children (64%), six-figure earners (61%) and millennials (60%). 
  • Most holiday borrowers with debt put it on their credit cards (62%). Personal loans also remained a popular choice at 23%, though this was down from 27% in 2020. 
  • 82% of those with holiday debt won’t pay it off within a month, but nearly 45% will try to consolidate their debtor open a balance transfer credit card. That could be a helpful solution for the 35% of borrowers paying above-average APRs.

“You can’t make a meaningful plan to tackle debt unless you know exactly how much money is coming in and going out of your household on a regular basis,” says Matt Schulz, LendingTree’s credit card expert. “Once you know that, you can take stock in your spending and shift things around to match your priorities, including freeing up money to pay down debt.”

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