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WASHINGTON-According to the third annual Consumer Federation of America (CFA)/CUNA holiday spending survey – a survey which typically garners mainstream national media coverage – consumers aren’t planning on opening their wallets too wide this holiday season, but they will spend more than last year. This may spell bad news for some retailers who have been counting on a strong holiday season to make up for a mediocre year. While 61% of those questioned said they plan to spend about the same amount, more consumers plan to cut back this year. Some 21% replied that they would spend less and 15% said they would spend more. Consumers planning to spend less this year than the previous year are down 7% from 28% in the 2001 survey, and the number who responded that they would spend more this year crept up 2% from 13%. “I don’t mean to suggest from these results that we can look forward to a banner year for consumer spending,” CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel explained, “but this does show that there is some room for optimism and perhaps the holiday spending season this year will not be quite as weak as it was last year.” Though a bit more will be spent, he said that consumers are “approaching this holiday season with something of a cautious mood.” Typically holiday spending increases 0.7% each year, and while Hampel predicts that 2002 will be on the positive side, it will not reach that level of growth he said. The percentages are distributed fairly evenly among those planning to make the most of their holiday purchases on a credit card (26%), a few holiday purchases (28%), and no holiday purchases (27%), while 17% said they did not have a credit card and 3% were unsure. The percentage of respondents without credit cards in 2002 dropped significantly from 23% in 2001. The previous 12 months represented just a 1% drop. “The reality is that many consumers owe a great deal of money and our survey suggests that they are very aware of that fact,” CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck said. He pointed out that the average household carrying consumer debt has about $20,000 between all its non-mortgage debts. “We believe this helps explain their holiday spending plans,” Brobeck observed. Americans owe a total of about $1.7 trillion in non-mortgage consumer loans, with $1 trillion of that in installment payments, like car loans, and $700 billion in credit cards, according to CFA. Compounding consumers’ debt problems is the fact that some credit card companies are lowering minimum payments from 2% to 1.5%, giving consumers a “false sense of security,” he added. Over the last year, the percentage of consumers concerned about being able to pay monthly debts, not including the mortgage, jumped from 39% to 46%. A sharp jump was made in those who were “very concerned” from 19% to 30%. Those expressing the greatest concern were low-income minorities, the survey found. The CFA/CUNA study also looked into ancillary issues, including “What would you do with a windfall of $5,000?” Just 13% indicated that they would spend the money, down from 17% in the 2001 survey. Forty percent said they would pay down debt and 41% would either save or invest it. Hampel pointed out that the economy has been in turmoil since the survey began and that possibly next year the survey could be performed during a recovery period. Hampel commented, “.having done this for three years in a row, each time we’ve conducted this survey, it has been just before or during or after a recession. We have not done this yet in a growing economy.” Opinion Research Corporation International performed the survey November 7-10, gathering information from a representative sampling of more than 1,000 American adults. [email protected]

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