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Holiday shoppers haven't paid off last year's gifts yet

Consumer advocates say it's time for some real talk with family and friends.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — If you’re planning to head out — or stay home — to do some holiday shopping after Thanksgiving, you’re obviously not alone.

But before you do, consumer advocates have a warning. They say an alarming number of people are going deeper into debt.

What’s concerning, they say, is a shocking number of Americans who haven’t even finished paying off last year‘s credit card debt are going to double down again this year. That's an estimated 35 million people who still owe on presents and purchases.

“Are there things that I could be using that money to pay off? Absolutely,” said Connie Pomella who has credit card and other debts from a recent move, “But things are on sale now so I’m going to take advantage of the sales right now.” 

Artricia James-Heard with A Right Way Credit Counseling in New Tampa says she gets it — The pressure to buy presents this time of year can be tough to handle. But going deeper and deeper into debt, she says — is eventually worse.

“It’s a behavior that needs to be changed,” said James-Heard. “They don’t think about five years from now or maybe they might experience a temporary job loss. What happens in that situation? Credit is affected because the money is not there.”

Chris Jolly and his son Chris Jr. shopped for Black Friday deals in Bentonville, Arkansas, on Nov. 24, 2016. (Gunnar Rathbun/AP Images)

James-Heard suggests when people shop this year, they set a budget and pick a couple of meaningful gifts instead of frivolously spending on several small ones. She also says it's a good idea to have an honest conversation with friends or relatives about what’s realistic.

“There’s no pressure to spend,” she says. “It is a perceived obligation to spend.”

Even with all that unpaid debt, a recent survey shows people plan to spend even more than last year. On average, the average American will lay out $846. That’s a $52 increase from 2018.

It's estimated that people will spend a total of $1.1 trillion on holiday gift  despite fewer shopping days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Generous? Perhaps — but someone else’s black Friday, says James-Heard, doesn’t have to leave shoppers in the red.

“it’s under their control...It’s something that they absolutely have control over. To spend or not to spend is the choice.”

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