Combined interest on vacation credit card spending in the US is almost $2.7 billion.
Using your credit card while on vacation seems flexible and convenient, but if you don’t pay it off promptly, you’re likely to suffer from a bad case of debt lag.
What is debt lag?
Debt lag, a play on the term “jet lag,” is any debt that you’ve accrued paying for a vacation. This can include flights or hotels you paid for with a credit card or even a personal loan you took out to pay for the trip. Almost two-thirds of us use a credit card while on vacation, and according to our 2016 survey, the typical American runs up a debt of $1,518 on their card during the trip.
Which regions are the worst offenders?
That figure varies depending on where you live. Here’s the average debt based on region:
|East North Central||$1,538|
|West South Central||$1,448|
|West North Central||$1,361|
|East South Central||$1,284|
Which states have the most debt lag?
The interactive map below shows the average debt per state. (We haven’t included data for states where the number of respondents was too low to calculate a number.)
How do we plan to deal with that debt?
Americans favor a variety of tactics to deal with credit card debt accumulated on their vacation.
Age and sex
Debt lag is a bigger problem for men than women, with an average figure of $1,616 for males and $1,431 for females.
Debt levels also rise as we get older, possibly reflecting increasing incomes. 18 to 29 year olds accumulated $1,130 on average. Those aged 30 to 44 averaged $1,564, 45 to 59 year olds averaged $1,585 and those aged over 60 averaged $1,602.
Those over 60 were the most likely to pay off their debt immediately, with 73% doing that. The worst figures were for 30 to 44 year olds at 49%. The figure was 57% for 45 to 59 year olds and 67% for 18 to 29 year olds.
Tips for avoiding debt lag
So how can you avoid debt lag? Follow these simple tips:
- Book your trip well in advance and pay for it before you go. Book things you can prepay, like hotels, flights and activities, well in advance. Save up little by little, and book one thing at a time. For example, maybe you can save up enough to book your flight a year in advance, and then save for another few months to book your hotel nine months early.
- Set a travel budget before you go. Know how much you plan to spend before you travel. While this might seem like obvious advice, 20% of Americans don’t set a vacation budget.
- Stick to that budget. Having a budget doesn’t help if you ignore it at the first opportunity. A quarter of our survey respondents blew out their budget by up to 20%.
- Pay off your debt promptly. Almost 40% of us don’t pay off our credit cards as soon as we return from holiday, and that’s when the interest payments really start to hurt. Worryingly, 6% of us still haven’t paid off vacation debt a year after incurring it.
- Examine balance transfers. If you do have debt lag after your vacation, a balance transfer to a lower-rate card can help you pay off that debt faster.
- Consider a debt consolidation loan. If you have multiple debts or you’re paying a high interest rate, this will allow you to transfer your debt to a new loan and save on fees as well as interest. The key is to make sure the new loan is going to cost you less than what you’re currently paying.
How we worked this out: Responses from 3,031 Americans to our 2016 debt lag survey were used to calculate compound interest paid based on respondents’ stated credit card debt and the time taken to pay the debt off. We used a vacationing population size of 120 million based on 44% of adult American citizens who go on vacation annually, based on data from the US Census Bureau and results of a survey conducted by Allianz Global Assistance.
Jet lag might affect your sleep schedule for a day or two, but debt lag can take a toll on your finances for months — or years. Before you book your next vacation, take steps to limit how much you borrow and figure out a repayment plan you can afford before you take on any debt.
Frequently asked questions
Picture: Brent Nashville, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)