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“Seasonal employment. Reindeer wanted. New working conditions-lighter loads, fewer stops. Apply S. Claus, North Pole.”That pretty much reflects the holiday spending picture sketched by retail experts, and it’s echoed in a sampling of credit unions contacted by Credit Union Times regarding what they expect in terms of member spending habits this holiday season.A National Retail Federal report found that two-thirds of families said the economy will affect their holiday shopping. Many said they will give group gifts to couples and families, and those gifts will be practical ones. They indicated they’re trimming their lists and will be shopping sales.Perhaps of special interest to credit unions, more than 25% said they’ll pay with cash. They’ll also use debit cards instead of credit cards, and the once considered obsolete layaway plan is likely to enjoy a comeback.None of that seemed to surprise credit unions in anticipating the borrowing and spending patterns they’re likely to see.“I predict we will see more controlled spending this holiday season and less credit card use due to the economic slump,” Robin Bates, vice president of lending at MCT Federal Credit Union in Rockville, Md., said.“I feel members are going to continue to borrow for their needs but not for their wants. I believe there will be a very cautious and gradual return to pre-recession spending habits.”Thom Beck, MCT CEO, added that considering how tight credit is, members are likely to keep their spending at the same level or even trim it a bit.“There will not be a dramatic rise in spending, since members are learning to spend within their means,” he predicted.Beck noted although government employment in the Washington, D.C., metro area hasn’t been hit hard, the private sector has felt the impact from the recession, especially in service jobs.Will the pattern we see during the holidays continue well into 2010 or are brighter days ahead?“I agree with the economists that say unemployment will continue to rise and will be followed by a lag. Although the economy will slowly recover, unemployment will remain relatively flat until there is sustainability in the job market,” Beck said.“I can’t predict when this period of sustainability will occur, but this will coincide with a rise in consumer confidence. Interestingly, recent inflation statistics show inflation is not rising, which means people are still not spending money.”MCT recently began offering credit and auto-buying seminars at a local community college, high schools and meetings of Montgomery County Public School employees. Although the seminars have not specially offered advice on holiday spending, they do teach attendees to spend within their means.NuUnion Credit Union in Lansing, Mich., has held a holiday budget planning seminar in the past, and the session with saving ideas and spending strategies was on the calendar again this year.Christopher Day, NuUnion senior vice president of marketing, noted that for nine years Michigan has been suffering through the nation’s highest unemployment rate, currently more than 15%. In addition to the fact that virtually the entire state has been affected by the slumping auto industry, NuUnion-formerly State Employees Credit Union-has seen its members suffer.“State government has been battered, with employees facing layoffs and unpaid furloughs,” Day said. “It looks like our economy will be slow to recover.”As for holiday spending, “Many people are just flat out of money. They’re re-evaluating their priorities and going for needs rather than wants. They’re more careful not to over extend with credit cards. We think people are utilizing credit more responsibly.”He expects members scurrying to fill their Christmas lists will use cash or debit cards. Demand for holiday loans is flat. Last year the Michigan Retailers Association saw a slight decline in holiday spending, and the trade group will be happy to experience even a 1% gain this year.In spite of all this, Day indicated NuUnion has seen positive membership growth, a record loan year and improving delinquencies.“We’re working with our members one-on-one every day, as I’m sure every other credit union in the country is,” he said.Desert Schools Federal Credit Union in Phoenix also expects members to remain cautious with their spending through the fourth quarter this year but looks for better times during the second half of 2010.Jason Meyers, director of public relations, noted Desert Schools continues to provide financial literacy seminars focusing on smart saving and spending habits.“Another tool Desert Schools created is our “Money Matters” series, available in print and on-line. The series was created with practical strategies for staying financially healthy in a fun, easy-to-read format that includes quizzes and advice consumers can put into practice in their everyday lives.”For example, members heading out for holiday shopping who have read “Making Sense of Money” will comparison shop, be careful about using credit cards and organize their gift-buying trips to save gas.They’ll also realize if they charge $1,100 worth of gifts, and when the bill arrives they can only make the minimum payment (at 18% APR), they won’t finish paying off Christmas 2010 until 2023 and it will have cost them an additional $2,000.It’s a fact that may not have worried them before but is likely to rein in their spending this season. –[email protected]

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