The holidays can be an expensive time for all of us. But apparently, the season is even more challenging for those still struggling to pay off their student loans.
In a recent study by Student Loan Hero, consumers with student debt are more likely to incur additional debt to pay for holiday expenses. A good 69% of borrowers say they'll be charging the holiday items they buy on a credit card, and 33% expect to accrue more than $500 in charges. Furthermore, 33% of those with student debt have taken out personal loans to cover holiday expenses.
On the one hand, it's understandable that borrowers don't have much disposable income to work with for the holidays. The average graduate aged 20 to 30, for example, has a monthly student loan payment of $351. And it's kind of hard to save for the holidays when you're spending well over $4,000 a year paying off debt.
On the other hand, more debt certainly isn't the answer to having debt. If you're still dealing with student loans, it pays to be extra-cautious this holiday season to avoid digging yourself into an even worse financial hole. Here are a few tips to help in that regard.
Use credit cards sparingly
Though there are many benefits to using your credit card for holiday purchases (or any purchases, really), the one advantage of using cash is that it lends itself to greater levels of restraint. If you only have so much cash in your savings or checking account, and take credit cards off the table, then you'll essentially limit the extent to which you can overspend. With a credit card, there's nothing stopping you from hitting your credit limit, which can not only add to your debt load, but negatively impact your credit score.
If you are going to use a credit card this holiday season, don't charge more than what you can afford to pay off by the time your bill comes due. Furthermore, pay attention to holiday rewards programs, because if you're charging your purchases, you might as well get the most cash-back out of the deal.
Stick to a list
The problem with shopping during the holidays is that it's so easy to get tempted by deals. Before you hit the stores or start browsing online, figure out who you need to buy gifts for and what to get each person. Then, put those items on a list, and carry it with you everywhere you go. Having that list in writing will help you stay focused and avoid racking up extra debt by buying things that aren't essential.
Be strategic about the gifts you ask for
Just as you'll be shopping for others this holiday season, so too will your friends and loved ones no doubt be shopping for you. Therefore, you might as well take advantage by asking for things that save you money on other expenses, whether it's a gift card to your local grocery store or a movie pass at the theater you tend to frequent. An estimated 77% of those with student debt say they'll be asking for gifts that save them money on other things, so don't be shy with the people in your life.
Here's another interesting tidbit: A good 58% of student loan borrowers plan to sell or regift the items they receive to help offset the expense of the holidays. If you're given items you're not crazy about, don't hesitate to go this route and eke out a little cash. Just be subtle about it to avoid hurting those otherwise good-intentioned gift-givers.
Keep up with your current loan payments
The expenses you incur during the holidays are limited in nature, so you may be inclined to put off other bills temporarily to compensate for that uptick. But while it's a good idea to cut back on spending around the holidays, it's a bad idea to neglect your obligations -- namely, your student loans. An alarming 40% of borrowers say they've thought about skipping a student loan payment to afford their holiday purchases. But not only will missing a debt payment extend the life of your loan and increase the total amount of interest you pay, but it might also put your credit score at risk.
No matter how much you're planning to spend this season, don't make the mistake of falling behind on your student loan payments. If anything, come up with creative ways to scrounge up extra cash, whether it's working a temporary side hustle or selling off possessions you can live without.
The holidays can be particularly challenging when you go into them already in debt. But if you're smart about how you spend money this season, you'll manage to make your loan payments and enjoy the holidays to the fullest.