Managing personal finances after the holidays

Although retail and credit offers are enticing to holiday shoppers, legal experts warn of high interest.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 10:19 PM EST
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WASHINGTON, N.C. (WITN) - With holiday shopping in full swing before Christmas, buying gifts can sometimes add up.

“Right now the hot offer is the buy now, pay later,” Sarah Beth Withers of Inner Banks Legal Services said. “There are a lot of apps that offer it, the afterpay. The interest rates on those, people aren’t really reading the fine prints, so they can get themselves in trouble.”

The nonprofit law firm located in downtown Washington in Beaufort County aims to provide legal services at a rate that’s affordable to families in the justice gap, which Withers said is comprised of people who make between one and four times the poverty level.

“A lot of people assume they don’t qualify for our services but we pride ourselves in providing top-notch legal services at a rate most people can afford,” Withers said. “26,000 Beaufort County residents fall into the justice gap. It’s not a small percentage. 86% of Americans have a civil legal need that’s unmet and we aim to fill that gap in legal services.”

Withers said the biggest mistake is waiting too long to go see an attorney when there are options, such as the Inner Banks Legal Services, which charges people only what they can afford to pay.

The National Retail Federation expects this year’s holiday sales to grow as much as 11.5% over last year, and consumers to spend nearly $1,000 on average for holiday gifts and other items.

Withers explained how the holiday bills could pile up.

“Most people wait until it’s too late,” Withers said. “They have purchased and it snowballed on their credit cards and all of a sudden their credit cards are all maxed out, or close to.”

But there are ways to manage personal finances after the holiday.

“If you have already maxed out your credit card, or you know you have already purchased for many people over your means, it’s probably best to not purchase,” Withers said. “Maybe break out the art supplies, bake something, it’s always the thought that counts. It doesn’t necessarily mean the price tag on the gift, it’s the time together.”

Withers said bankruptcy is at an all-time low but the busiest time for them in the past was generally in February when people realize their December purchases were more than they thought they would be.

However, Withers said it’s not just holiday shopping.

“People usually aren’t just going out at Christmas and maxing out their credit cards, they’ve been doing it all year,” Withers said. “They’ve been snowballing and the interest rate, it catches up with you at some point and you just can’t even make the minimum payment.”

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