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It's the holidays already? Many are still paying off credit card debt racked up last year

Black Friday is right around the corner, but many Americans are still paying off the credit card debt they racked up over the holidays last year. 

Among shoppers who charged their holiday gifts in 2017, over 1 in 4 are still paying off those credit card purchases as they head into another holiday season, according to a survey from personal finance website NerdWallet.

"It's so easy to overspend with all of the excitement and ... people forget that they will have to pay all of that debt off eventually,'' says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. "We recommend setting a budget ahead of time. ... There's nothing wrong with using your credit card to buy gifts, but make sure you pay off the balance at the end of the month because credit card debt is very expensive.''

Despite the debt some Americans are still grappling with, shoppers aren't putting their credit cards down just yet, with 73 percent saying they plan to use a credit card to buy presents this year – up from 58 percent in 2017.

» 10 ways to save money during the holidays

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They're also expecting it to take roughly 14 weeks on average to pay off their credit card purchases, up from the 2.3 months that it typically took to erase that debt last year.

Shoppers are also planning to use other methods to pay for their holiday gifts this year, with 33 percent saying they're expecting to use layaway, while 21 percent will probably use shopping loans.

Those point-of-sale loans are a relatively new vehicle that are offered at some stores as a payment option when customers are checking out. But shoppers should tread carefully, Palmer says. 

While such loans vary by the company that's issuing them, as well as the retailer that the lender is partnering with, "you'll be paying it off in installments, and it's not always obvious what the interest rate is (and) and if there are any fees involved,'' she says, "so you want to make sure you read all all of the fine print.''

Consider using a credit card with a zero percent annualized rate that you can quickly pay off instead. "The shopping loans are definitely a last resort because there are other, better options that will leave you paying less,'' Palmer says.

And there are many ways for shoppers to save money up front. 

"There are a lot of things you can do to stretch your budget but not everyone takes advantage of (them),'' Palmer says.ShopSavvy, for instance, is an app that enables shoppers to compare prices by scanning bar codes at different stores.

For those making purchases online, the browser extension Honey tells shoppers about coupons they can apply and whether they can find a lower price elsewhere, Palmer says.

And the website camelcamelcamel.com tracks prices for Amazon users, allowing them to see how prices are trending and to get price alerts when the cost of an item goes down.

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