WASHINGTON-Spending less does not mean less holiday cheer. According to the second annual holiday spending survey conducted by CUNA and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), holiday shoppers will cut back on spending, but not much over last year. Additionally, the study found that consumers were less concerned about debt than they were a year ago. Over one in four consumers (28%) plan to spend less this holiday season than last year. Only about 13% plan to increase their holiday spending, while the majority (57%) plans to spend the same as last year. "Given the significant declines in consumer confidence and the rise in unemployment, some reduction in holiday spending plans is not at all surprising. But these results suggest that the contraction in holiday spending may not be as pronounced as we might have expected," CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel said. The survey included 1,019 consumers between October 25 and 28. Researchers were also surprised to find that fewer consumers are concerned about paying off their current or future debts. Consumer concern about being able to make monthly debt payments on current debts, excluding mortgages, fell from 48% last year to 39% for 2001. Part of the reason for the decline in concern is that fewer consumers are carrying debt, the study found. Only 38% report that they are carrying credit card debt, down from 42% last year. Just 22% plan to use a credit card to make "most holiday purchases," down from 26% last year. Also, declining interest rates seem to have abated some consumers' fears. However, this easing of concern is not across the board; when the demographics are broken down, some have definite worries about their debts. Most of these, the survey indicated, are young adults, low- and moderate-income households, and families of three or more persons. Overall, 39% of consumers admitted that they were concerned about their personal debts. But, when looking specifically at person 18 to 34 years old, that number jumped to 49%. Of low- and moderate-income households, 54% confessed to concern over their debts, while 47% of families of three or more persons expressed concern. Concern for paying off credit card debts related to the holidays gave 37% of young adults anxiety, while 47% of low- and moderate-income households said they were concerned and 34% of families were worried. Consumers in general weighed in at 27%. Given an extra $5,000, 54% of adults age 25 to 44 would use it to pay down their debts, as well as 49% of families. Only 42% of consumers in general said they would pay down debts-36% would save it and 17% would spend it, according to the study. When it comes to holiday spending, it is not necessarily the more the merrier. CUNA and CFA suggest: * Creating a budget and sticking to it; * Working from a list; * Comparison shopping; * Trim interest payments by using a low-rate credit card (credit unions offer credit cards at an average of 2.5 percentage points less than banks and typically have lower fees.); and * Opening a Christmas club account. [email protected]

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