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Consumer Reports Holiday Poll Finds Spirits High, Amid Concerns about Overspending and Debt

Seven percent of Americans still paying off last year’s holiday debt

Consumer ReportsYonkers, NY – A majority of Americans say they’re looking forward to the winter holidays with a quarter of respondents “really looking forward” to the season’s greetings, but most don’t plan to break the bank this year, according to Consumer Reports’ first holiday poll.

Consumer Reports’ poll found 62 percent of respondents are excited about the coming of the winter holidays, while only one in 10 of those surveyed have caught the holiday humbug and said they’re not at all energized about this festive time of year.

“With lower unemployment and the Great Recession in the rearview mirror, you’d think that holiday shoppers would be singing, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again,’ but there’s concern over repeating mistakes of the past such as overspending and drowning in debt,” said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior projects editor and resident shopping expert.

When it comes to holiday spending, most respondents (56 percent) expect to shell out the same amount on gifts as they did last year. Fourteen percent expect to spend more, while 30 percent say they’re cutting back. That’s a similar breakdown to what Consumer Reports has seen in recent years. However, the percentage of shoppers cutting back on holiday expenses this year is half what it was during the dark days of the recession in 2008.

Among the folks who plan to open their wallets a little more, the improving economy is a key factor. Twenty-three percent say they’re feeling more generous this year vs. last; 16 percent said they’re more optimistic; 14 percent reported they got a raise, promotion, or better-paying job; 12 percent have a job after being unemployed in 2013, and 7 percent are anticipating their year-end bonuses will be larger this year.

Credit-card debt is a serious concern for many, but e-commerce accounts for so much of what consumers buy these days and shoppers are becoming increasingly reliant on plastic. In fact, more than four of 10 Americans who used credit cards last year lauded them as the easiest vehicle for online payments.

Last year, 52 percent of respondents charged at least some purchases, but most were quite responsible at quickly paying off the balance. Sixty-one percent paid their holiday shopping bills completely by the next billing cycle, and by the end of February, three-quarters had done so. But as of this month, 7 percent of those surveyed were still financing their 2013 holiday purchases.

This season, consumers will once again use a combination of cash and plastic for their holiday purchases. Sixty-two percent plan to include cash in the mix, 45 percent a major credit card such as Visa or American Express, 45 percent a debit card, and 11 percent a store or retailer charge card.

Among those who will not be charging purchases this year:

  • 40 percent cited a fear of racking up debt
  • 31 percent cited a desire to better control spending
  • 11 percent worried about data breaches and hackers accessing to their personal information.
  • 5 percent said they had already maxed out their credit cards
  • 4 percent don’t want to be reminded about how much they spend.
  • 34 percent of respondents said they don’t even possess a credit card.

Perhaps because times have been so tough for so long, more than half of those surveyed (53 %) say they’re making a budget this season to guide their holiday spending. But creating a budget and sticking to it are two separate things. Last year, 38 percent of those who set a budget exceeded it, according to the survey.

On average, respondents told Consumer Reports they expect to spend about $437.00 over the holidays this year.  More than a quarter of people (28 percent) are expecting to spend $250.00 to $499.00 on presents; 19 percent are setting aside $500.00 to $799.00 for purchases, the same percentage limiting expenditures to $100.00 to $299.00. Eighteen percent of Americans plan to dig deep into their pockets and spend $1,000 or more.

Consumer Reports 2014 Holiday Polls are a series of nationally representative surveys designed to measure consumer sentiment and shopping behavior during the holiday season. Additional results from the Consumer Reports poll can be found at www.ConsumerReports.org/Holidays.

Consumer Reports Poll Methodology

The Consumer Reports National Research Center designed a survey to explore general sentiment and shopping behaviors for the upcoming 2014 winter holiday season. In November 2014, GfK Custom Research administered the survey online to a nationally representative sample of over 1,500 randomly selected adult U.S. residents. The data were statistically weighted so that respondents in the survey were demographically and geographically representative of the U.S. population. The margin of error is +/- 2.5 % points at the 95% confidence level. 54 percent of the sample was female, and the median age was 46 years old.

Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications.  Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.


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