THE BLOG
01/13/2012 04:57 pm ET

How to Fight the "Holiday Credit Hangover" in January

The holiday season is such a fun time! There are parties and delicious desserts and plenty of gifts. But as fun as December is, it does come to an end.

In January, we resolve to adopt better habits. And if that were the only hardship for January, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Unfortunately, January is also a month where we get the credit card bill for December. It can be a "holiday credit hangover", so to speak.

For many consumers, those December credit card bills can be surprising... and even financially harmful. Some of my clients enjoy lavish Decembers and then end up paying it off months later!
If you have a holiday credit hangover, here are 3 tips to help you overcome it and get back on your feet:

1. Review your credit card statements
When you get a big credit card bill, it can be depressing to sit down and go through each purchase. Maybe you don't want to be reminded of what you spent! But you just might find a mistake on your credit card that you can correct. (One of my clients reviewed his bill in January and found a fraudulent $800 charge. He disputed it and knocked his bill down dramatically).
As you review your purchases, you might also discover some opportunities to save money in the future. It's always a good idea to review your credit card statements.

2. Pay as much as you can right now.
Yes, pay it right now. Don't wait until the payment due date to pay it. (You might forget or you might accidentally spend that money on something else). Pay your credit card right now. Even if you can't pay all of it, pay at least the minimum payment and try to pay more -- as much as you can.

Waiting until closer to the payment due date simply deflects the "pain" of payment but does nothing to reduce the anxiety of the holiday credit hangover. But by taking a bold, immediate step of paying right away, you'll be surprised at how much it helps to wash away the stress of those big holiday bills.

3. Make some sacrifices.
I'd love it if this step was easier but I would be doing you a disservice if I softened it. You've enjoyed December and now it's time to pay it back. The longer you pay it off, the more expensive your holiday becomes (because credit card interest is so high). So for the month of January, while you are already resolving to diet and exercise and quitting smoking, add one more sacrifice -- cut back on extra expenses and pay off those credit cards as aggressively as possible.

Keep December a great memory
The holiday season is fun: It's a wonderful time to spend with loved ones, and it's okay if you "splurged" a little. But now get back on track and have a healthier credit new year!

Please let me know about your credit story or if you have a credit question, Jeanne.Kelly@TheCreditOwl.com