LANSING – When fighting the crowds for the newest gadget or toy this Christmas season, a quick swipe of a credit card means the bill will soon follow.
Christmas is a time for spending, and people will end up in trouble if they spend more than they can afford, said Dianne Reichel, group manager of four GreenPath Debt Solutions offices in Southeast Michigan.
"There is so much hype around the holidays, so people think they're getting great deals and are not just buying gifts but are buying things for themselves as well," she said.
Reichel, whose offices are in Detroit, Farmington Hills, Allen Park and Monroe, said the solution requires planning throughout the year.
"Primarily people need to have a budget and determine how much they are able to spend when in their lives," Reichel said. "If you're sitting down in December figuring out how much money you have to spend, it will be a lot less than if you sit down in January and start saving from there."
Tony Racka, a business administration professor at Oakland Community College, said the debt created from Christmas spending results purely from marketing.
"I teach my students that marketing is the reason people are spending so much, because wealth has created a want for goods and no longer a need," he said. "People don't need bigger iPods or new cell phones but the marketing has made them want them."
Racka added that high demand and heavy spending on gifts is nothing new.
"In the '80s it was Cabbage Patch dolls that mothers were fighting over and now it's the new Playstation 3, but the demand is no worse now," he said. "The only thing that might have changed is that now that we are wealthier, the gifts are also more expensive."
People are living above their means, and Racka said he teaches his students the importance of fiscal responsibility.
"The greatest tool the young adults I teach have is the time value of money, and I try to let them know how valuable the money they spend now will be worth later," he said.
If people live too extravagantly, they may be forced to file for bankruptcy protection because of an inability to pay back debt, said Pamela Tripp, a bankruptcy attorney in Okemos.
"I have different types of clients. Some have medical bills they can't pay and others are living above their means," Tripp said. "For those living above their means, they are probably doing it all year so Christmas would be no different."
She added that the overspending on Christmas is sometimes the final straw.
Tripp said January and February are some of her busiest months but right now she is handling a large number of cases and anticipates more to come after the start of the year.
In addition to having to repay the debts there are other negative aspects of filing bankruptcy, Tripp said.
"The fact that someone has filed bankruptcy stays on their credit report for up to 10 years and makes it difficult but not impossible to get a mortgage or credit card," she said. "The immediate result is that you are on a cash-only budget."
Reichel also said, "Our busy time starts in January and goes through March when the bills start piling up. I know the state's economy is bad and it has been all year, but from what I hear everyone is out shopping.
"I wonder where they are getting the money."