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Dec 9, 2019

All I Want for Xmas is My Debt Paid Off

By Emily Winter

Half of U.S. consumers want their debts paid off rather than gifts

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If you could ask for anything, no matter how awkward, no matter how much it cost, what would be the number one thing you’d want to receive as a gift for the holidays?

Half of U.S. adults say eliminating debt would be at the top of their list this year, according to a new survey. Comparatively, only 19% say they’d choose a vacation or luxury item.

This wish for debt repayment makes sense considering consumer debt has been increasing for 20 straight quarters, and the average consumer needs nearly $60,000 to be debt-free this holiday season, according to the same survey.

And some people are acting on it—officially putting “pay my debts in lieu of wrapped gifts” on their holiday lists.

Medical expenses, student loans, and the cost of living

One of these people is Jacky Beren, a voice-over artist, producer, comedian, and marketer  I interviewed. Beren, based in New York, has a host of medical problems: fibromyalgia, connective tissue disease, osteoarthritis, lumbar radiopathy, herniated disks, chronic pain syndrome, sacroiliitis, and tendonitis. Dealing with these conditions has put her $5,000 in debt, with more expenses coming up in the near future.

Beren says the barebones costs associated with her medical conditions are covered by Medicaid, but every medical test that can help doctors figure out how to treat her pain often cost $500 or more out of pocket. Then there’s her medical marijuana card for pain management, acupuncture, and trained service dog, which aren’t covered by insurance at all.

So this year, she’s asking her family for medical debt help instead of presents.

“My family said they would see what they can do,” Beren says. “I have a feeling my mom will reimburse me for what I paid for the medical marijuana card so I can pay that off my credit card, and may give me money to help out with the cost of medical marijuana in the future.” She adds that her brother will probably get her practical things she needs for her service dog.

For Beren, these gifts are more valuable than superfluous gifts.

And she’s not necessarily the exception. When Nonye Brown-West, also of New York,  graduated from college, she had student loans totaling more than $12,000. For her birthday, her sister gifted her an interest-free loan, which gave Brown-West much-needed flexibility to pay them off on a timeline that works for her.

Spending less on gifts this year

This year, I asked my parents for debt help for Christmas, too. I have $5,000 of credit card debt on a no-APR for 15-months card, and any monetary gift will help me chip away at it. The debt is a mix of living expenses, wedding-related expenses, and travel. When I talked to my mom about it, she was understanding and receptive to the idea.

Like Beren, I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for a specific amount of debt relief. Anything helps. But what I do know is that Americans are spending less on gifts this year. In fact, people say they spent more than $1000 on holiday gifts in 2018, and that number will drop by nearly 30% to $735 in 2019, according to a recent TD Bank Survey. More than half of this spending will take place on credit cards.

Reduce credit card spending

And for money-conscious holiday shoppers putting gifts on credit cards this year, founder of the finance blog for women, Brittan Leiser, has a trick to reduce spending:

“Remove stored or saved credit card info on websites,” she says. Leiser adds the annoyance of having to input your credit card information every time you make an online purchase will force you to think twice about what you’re buying. By wiping away saved credit card data, you may lose a convenience, but most likely will save money.

Perhaps if we can hack the 2019 holiday season—or at least minimize its financial havoc—fewer of us will be asking for debt relief gifts in 2020.

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Written by

Emily Winter

Emily Winter is a writer and comedian in New York. She's written for TV Land, Glamour and Fusion TV.


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