WASHINGTON — If consumers predict their own behavior correctly, they and retailers could have a “Blue Christmas.”That’s the main finding of a poll commissioned by CUNA and the Consumer Federation of America on consumers’ anticipated spending patterns during the upcoming holiday season.A record high 55% of all consumers expect to spend less money this year. While 27% of the respondents said they planned to spend “much less” than last year.Based on the data compiled from this annual survey, holiday sales could decline between 2% and 5% compared to last year, said CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel.He said during each of the last five years between 30% and 35% of those surveyed said they plan to cut back holiday spending. The dramatic increase this year cut across all age and income groups, but those aged 25-45 were most likely to cut their spending.The survey also showed 62% of women planned to reduce the amount they spend this year, while only 48% of men intended to do so.In response to an open-ended question about why they planned to cut back on spending, 36% cited the economic downturn, 22% said less money, 12.5% said a desire to save money or reduce debt, 10.5% responded higher prices and 9% said they had less income than last year.Hampel said for credit unions, the reduced spending means there will be less growth in the use of credit than in previous years and more growth in deposits.“Credit unions have already had a good year for loan growth. The loan/savings ratio has been strong for credit unions. This will pull it down, which is not a bad thing,” he said.He added that consumers using less credit won’t have a dramatic impact on credit unions because credit card balances are not a large part of a credit union’s balance sheet.CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck said consumers’ reluctance to spend was a direct result of their increased debt load. He cited government data that showed consumers have accumulated $2.6 trillion worth of nonmortgage debt, which works out to about $20,000 per household.The survey showed that 71% of those respondents who said they would be spending less expressed concern about debt and a vast majority of them said they would use any financial windfall to reduce their debt load.Brobeck also said that organizations like CFA and credit unions that want to help consumers should “encourage them to plan how much they plan to spend on presents and then stick to that plan, and pay with cash whenever possible.”Hampel noted that because retailers haven’t dealt with a decline in consumer spending at the holidays for some time, it is unclear what impact the downturn will have on seasonal hiring or inventories.“These are uncharted waters, so everyone is making guesses,” he said.CUNA and the CFA surveyed 1,003 people between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9.–[email protected]

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