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Visa Calls Christmas Use Heavy, Sees Hefty '86 Debt

December 18, 1985|MARTHA GROVES | Times Staff Writer

For millions of Christmas shoppers, hefty debt payments in 1986 are definitely in the cards.

Since the day after Thanksgiving, shoppers have been racking up $400 million a day in purchases on their Visa cards, the bank card company reported Tuesday. Visa said its 130 million card holders will make at least 120 million transactions between Thanksgiving and Christmas worth a total of $6.7 billion. That's 50% higher than during last year's holiday season.

Sandra Shaber, an economist with Chase Econometrics in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., said the temptation to "use plastic" is too great, even though customers are already burdened by record high debt. In October, the most recent month for which figures are available, consumer credit reached a high of 19.4% of disposable income.

Even so, she said, this "won't be a glorious Christmas. . . . I think it's fair to say that consumer spending has slowed notably in the current quarter."

MasterCard does not take comparable measurements of its transactions, a spokesman said. For chains under the umbrella of Los Angeles-based Carter Hawley Hale Stores--parent of the Broadway and Neiman-Marcus--credit card transactions as a percentage of overall sales have stayed "pretty consistent" over the years, said spokesman Bill Dombrowski. He said the company has not seen any big change this year.

The Bankcard Holders of America, a Washington-based consumer group, advises buyers not to use cards willy-nilly because interest on the debt is running 18% to 19% a year. "With interest rates so high," the group said, "it is definitely worthwhile for shoppers to think twice before using their cards."

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