(WPLG) We shop, we swipe, and sometimes our spending habits get out of control and those credit card bills just seem to grow and grow.
Lingering Christmas bills can lead to debt woes. And very soon you might get the equivalent of coal in your stocking; your credit card bill, and you'll know exactly how generous you were feeling last month.
"We do things that we know that we can't afford to do. We do it to make us look good. And in the end we are paying for it," Tonya Bain said.
Americans carry an average of about $15,000 in credit card debt, and interest rates on those cards make it hard to pay off. Consumer counseling agencies see a 25 percent increase in the number of people seeking help this time of year - most saddled with holiday bills.
"As time goes on that debt will continue to build and put people in that hole," Michael Gibson said.
Financial experts urge some self-reflection on how this mountain of debt was built and offer some tips on how to get rid of it.
"Every time I look at their budget they always have a lot of money left over. But then I look through their bank statement and it doesn't tell the same story," consumer attorney Chad Van Horn said.
"Ask yourself is it a short term thing, like medical debt or joblessness, or is it something where you're not that great at paying your bills on time or resisting the lore of extra credit," Matt Schulz of Creditcard.com said.
The first step to paying off debt is figuring out a budget.
"Let's put a 12-month process together that's going to get us to those zero balances," Van Horn said.
Tip number 2: Consider paying off the high interest balances first.
"It's going to give you more money at the end of the day. So if you pay off the higher interest rate card, you're going to have larger amounts to put toward the lower interest rates later," Van Horn said.
Tip 3: It may sound crazy. But ask your credit card company for a lower interest rate.
"Banks know that they have to compete and they have to work with their card holders in order to keep them from jumping ship to another offer that's out there," Schulz said.
Tip number 4: You may want to consolidate all your bills into a new credit line or a balance transfer to a card with zero percent interest.
And a last resort is bankruptcy. Remember, it's not for everyone, so seek professional advice.
"Live an interest free diet. Don't spend what you can't afford to pay off because that interest builds on itself month after month," Van Horn said.
"Inaction and keeping your head in the sand is going to cause more and more trouble and make your problem worse. So you need to attack that debt issue head on," Schulz said.
The key is to make a plan and negotiate with creditors. Another idea is to budget now for Christmas next year. You'd be surprised how far your money will go putting away a little each month.