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Dvorkin On Debt: 3 Good-News Numbers

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This time of year is full of holiday cheer  — and financial fear.

Every winter, we overspend to buy gifts for loved ones. As American Express recently  reported, 12 percent of holiday shoppers will intentionally run up their credit cards with no hopes of paying off the balance quickly.

In fact, some of them won’t pay off their balances before they start shopping next holiday season. It’s depressing, especially when they don’t seek any of the free help that’s available.

Thankfully, not all the news about America’s personal spending and saving is so unsettling. Make no mistake: Too many Americans are still struggling with debt, and many have either a defeatist or ignore-it-till-it-goes away attitude.  However, just as many are walking the right path. Let’s acknowledge them — and encourage others to follow in their footsteps…

1. Solvency over celebrity

A healthy 77 percent of Americans say “understanding my personal finances” is “very important,” while 22 percent say it’s at least “somewhat important.” That’s according to a MassMutual poll  that sadly doesn’t ask the lingering 1 percent: What in blazes are you thinking?

Other results show Americans know about the balances in their bank and credit card accounts (88 percent) than they know about sports (40 percent) or “workplace gossip” (11 percent). While not great, 48 percent “know a lot” about their retirement plan. That’s still more than many experts would have predicted, given the burgeoning retirement crisis.

2. Smart holiday spending — from Millennials

Those born between 1980 and 2000 are often maligned as spoiled brats. I’ve written about Why We Need To Stop Sneering At Millennials and acknowledge Millennial Optimism about money, but now a new poll offers a holiday twist.

Conducted by a company called TaxSlayer, it concludes Millennials “are playing frugal Santa this holiday season.”  Specifically…

When asked if they would risk going into debt during this holiday season, the respondents, often accused of being credit card happy and opening credit lines to afford luxury items, deflated that myth with an overwhelming 78 percent stating they would rather be considered a ‘Scrooge’ than spend too much on holiday shopping.

Then pollsters got even more detailed…

  • “Nearly 20 percent of respondents are willing to eat Ramen Noodles July through December to be sure they have the best gifts for everyone on their list.”
  • 66 percent of Millennials said they enjoy being able to get something nice for the people they love, but have a budget to stick to, with most respondents spending$300 on holiday gifting.”
  • “Nearly 25 percent save for the holidays at least four months in advance, with half devoting at least two months to a holiday gifting fund.”

3. The big priority: Catching up

The good news here is what’s missing: Bankrate asked Americans about their “top financial priority.” Nowhere among the Top 3 was “buying a new house” or “buying a new car” — or buying anything. Instead, the results were…

  •  “staying current on living expenses or getting caught up on the bills” at 38 percent
  • “paying down debt” at 21 percent
  • “saving” at 18 percent

Of course, that only totals 77 percent, which means 23 percent aren’t being as responsible as experts like myself would prefer. Still, I promised to look on the bright side this week. I’m encouraged that even if Americans continue to struggle with debt, they have solid role models to follow on their path to financial freedom.

This article by Howard Dvorkin first appeared on and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.

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