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Sherry Young: Credit card debt can diminish the joy of the season

Published: Friday, Aug. 28 2015 9:27 a.m. MDT

This Nov. 23, 2013 file photo shows a shopper carries Macy's bags while crossing an intersection outside Macy's in New York. Shopping for Black Friday started early this year. The annual shopping frenzy is seemingly replacing the Thanksgiving emphasis on gratitude and family with thoughts of buying and bargains. (Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press) This Nov. 23, 2013 file photo shows a shopper carries Macy's bags while crossing an intersection outside Macy's in New York. Shopping for Black Friday started early this year. The annual shopping frenzy is seemingly replacing the Thanksgiving emphasis on gratitude and family with thoughts of buying and bargains. (Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press)

Shopping for Black Friday started early this year. The annual shopping frenzy is seemingly replacing the Thanksgiving emphasis on gratitude and family with thoughts of buying and bargains.

The situation can be a blessing for someone who is organized and plans ahead but a trap for anyone on a limited budget.

A close friend shared with me that one of her children had gotten into some very serious credit-card debt. Many know credit cards are not the way to get out of financial trouble — they only dig the user in deeper — but this scenario happens all too often.

Financial guru Jean Chatsky advises, “Minimum payments are a credit-card company’s way of getting you to carry a single debt almost forever. If you, like the average American family, have $8,000 in card debt at a typical rate of 13.97 percent, and you pay only the minimum 2.2 percent of the balance required each month, it will take you 30 years to retire that debt and cost about $10,000 in interest.”

If the risks are so clear, then why do people get into trouble with credit cards?

In short, desperate people make desperate choices. Job loss, illness, economic downturns — many and varied reasons cause the debt to pile up one dollar at a time, allowing check-advance stores and credit card companies to thrive.

Child rearing can rack up the bills, just with kids' activities alone, and it's difficult not to let them participate. For our granddaughters who play soccer, between school and club, the fees for a year run in the thousands. For our grandsons who play football for just the fall season, the cost nears $500. My daughter, Melissa, tells me it was easily a thousand or two for her daughter to participate in cheerleading.

Then come college and weddings.

To return to my friend whose grown child, a parent with several children, had not come to her about the credit card problem: that child thought it would be possible to work it out somehow. But through my friend's insight and coaxing, the child shared that burden.

My friend can help both emotionally and financially, something lots of people do not have the resources to do. The parents are relieved their offspring did not decide to turn to a loan shark or a debt-consolidation plan that promises to help but then leaves clients deeper in a hole.

As scary as owing large amounts of money can be, too often worse scenarios play out, compounding the original problem. My friend is grateful the child did not divorce, sink into depression or commit suicide; she's confident the younger family will now be on a better financial path.

This time of year makes it even harder to keep to a budget and not spend unnecessarily. The idea of being blessed with every needful thing has ballooned out of proportion because our needs and wants have grown and compounded.

We want to deck the halls, fill the stockings to overflowing and cook "roast beast." We want to light the Hanukkah candles each night. We want to give lovely presents to everyone on our list as “caroling, caroling on we go.” We want our card to be the most unusual and clever, even though the postage alone costs almost a half-dollar.

The Grinch has become one of the most-loved Christmas characters because he changed his ways. At times, it doesn’t hurt to remember that changed Grinch. In the inimitable words of Dr. Seuss, “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! 'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!'”

Email: sasy273@gmail.com

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