Are you toying with the idea of opening a Christmas Club account? It may sound like a retro idea out of the movie “Elf,” with glitter and snowflakes, but a Christmas Club (or Holiday Club account) is simply a short-term savings fund that can help you plan for and manage the annual spending blizzard. The strategy can be smart, since during the 2021 holiday spend, 36% of consumers went into debt, owing an average of $1,249, according to a recent survey.
Pacing yourself to save in advance of the holiday crush is great, but the pros and cons of a Christmas Club account are not always crystal-clear. Learn the details of these accounts here, including:
• How Christmas Club accounts work
• Balance requirements for Christmas Club accounts
• Withdrawal limits
• Fees for Christmas Clubs.
What Is a Christmas Club Account?
To answer the question, “What is a Christmas Club account,” it may help to understand the history of these financial tools. Christmas Club accounts started in 1909 at a Pennsylvania bank and are designed to help you save money for holiday expenses. They typically do not earn high interest but can help you pull back your purse strings when December comes along and avoid debt.
After making regular, scheduled contributions to the Christmas account, the money is withdrawn, typically in October, November, or December, depending on your bank’s rules. Christmas Club funds are transferred to your regular checking account with the bank or withdrawn in a check to cover your holiday expenses, be they toys, trimmings, or latke parties.
Saving in increments can be easier on your budget than scrambling for cash when Yuletide, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa come around. It can also spare you from putting all those charges on your credit cards and having a high balance due.
How a Christmas Club Account Works
Here’s how a Christmas Club account works. When you sign up for one, you start with a deposit. Rules and regulations vary by bank. Some require a minimum to start; others don’t. Some have no minimum balance requirement in person at a branch, but do need a $25 minimum for setting up a Holiday Club account online.
You decide the amount you want to contribute regularly. For instance, you might opt for $25 or $100 swept from your checking account into your Christmas account every week or every payday.
Historically, banks have charged fees for withdrawing money before the club account matures. That encourages consumers to leave their money there until holiday shopping time. Just be aware that if an emergency comes up, like a broken water heater, and you take the money out, you will get hit with a fee.
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Reasons to Use a Christmas Club Account
There are several benefits to Christmas Club accounts that can make them a helpful financial tool. Here are some of the reasons why people open them:
• To save for a predictable spend above and beyond your year-round monthly budget. Many of us try to celebrate the holidays on a budget. But the gifting/decorating/entertaining spree can still hit every winter. A club account plumps up a money cushion to help you avoid credit card debt.
• To afford holiday travel. Most of us need extra dough, whether to rent a car to visit family or fly the kids home from college. To score the lowest airfare, car rental, and lodging costs, brush up on smart tips for finding travel deals. (If short-term savings won’t cover your trip, shop for the best travel loans with lower APRs, no compounding interest, and no fees.) Stashing funds in a club account, of course, is a viable solution.
• To build up funds for other planned annual costs. Just because they are called Christmas Club accounts doesn’t mean they have to be used for holiday spending. Puzzling over how to save on spring break expenses or how to pay for your child’s summer sleepaway camp? In those cases, a club account can be golden.
Where Can You Find a Christmas Club Account?
Christmas Club accounts are most often available at smaller community banks and credit unions. You can open one in person at a branch or online at your bank’s website. (Search under savings accounts.) Often, the same banks that set up payroll direct deposit plans also offer short-term club accounts.
Christmas Club accounts are offered at credit unions all across America, from the Space Coast Credit Union in Florida to the Pasadena Federal Credit Union in California, and in too many places in between to count.
Pros of a Christmas Club Account
If you’re trying to decide if a Christmas Club account is right for you, it’s worthwhile to consider the advantages of these accounts.
Simplifies the Process of Saving for the Holidays
Framing your holiday budget ahead of time can cut stress. Pacing yourself to save over months may be even better. If it helps, you can give these targeted accounts nicknames to keep your eye on the goal; say, “Christmas in Vermont” to “Kids’ Lego Fund.”
Alternative to Putting Holiday Purchases on Credit Card
Using Christmas cash can help you avoid overspending with credit cards. Once you turn to plastic, things can get out of control. You start hunting online for a scooter a child has her heart set on and then see an ad for the brown suede boots you’ve been wanting…ka-ching. Interest rates on credit cards are quite high, and you can be left with debt that takes a long time to pay off. (If you do end up using a credit card, here’s how to avoid being scammed during the holiday season.)
Recommended: How Does a Credit Limit Work?
Cons of a Christmas Club Account
It’s not all a winter wonderland; Christmas Club accounts can have downsides. Here are a few to consider.
Most Banks Have Saving Limits
Most Christmas Club accounts have a maximum dollar amount you can save. Some banks allow up to $5,000, but this number will vary. The cap might be less than what you’d like to save. If need be, consider opening a second Christmas club if the bank allows it or open an additional one at another bank, too.
Potential Fees for Early Withdrawal
If you need to get the money out before the set withdrawal date, you will most likely incur early withdrawal fees. These can vary. Find out what they are when you open your account.
Alternatives to Christmas Club Accounts
If you want to save money for the holidays but aren’t sure a Christmas Club account is right for you, consider these options.
• Certificate of Deposit. A certificate of deposit (or CD) generally offers a higher interest rate than a savings account but comes with a term. The bank holds your money for anywhere from months to years, and you collect the interest when the CD matures at the end of the term. Since a CD will lock up your money for a specific amount of time (typically between six months and 18 months, but shorter and longer terms are available), you may need to plan this right to have funds available for holiday expenses.
• Money Market Account. A money market account is an interest-bearing account that is federally insured and has competitive interest rates. It generally requires a higher opening deposit.
• High-yield Savings Account. These high-yield bank accounts earn significantly more interest than standard savings; you may find the best rates at online banks. However, the accessibility of these funds can be a downside. We all know how tempting it can be to transfer money from savings to checking when an unexpected household expense or special occasion comes up.
• Travel account. Like Christmas accounts, these savings accounts likely won’t pay great interest, but they help you save for your goal. You can pick where to keep travel fund savings, and then use the money to hop on a plane when the holidays roll around.
Christmas Clubs (or Holiday Club accounts) can spur you on to save regularly for the winter holiday spend. Planning ahead reduces stress. What’s more, setting a savings goal can help you keep your eye on the limit and avoid credit card overspending. But beware of fees for early withdrawals and caps on total amount saved. In some cases, you might be better off with another savings vehicle, like a CD or money market account.
Another option is to stash cash in a high-yield account and earn more interest there. SoFi makes it easy with our Checking and Savings. When you sign up with direct deposit, you’ll earn a stellar APY, pay no fees, and have easy access to spending and savings, all in one place.
Do banks still do Christmas Club accounts?
Yes, community banks, smaller banks, and credit unions still offer Christmas Club accounts. Ask at your branch or search the bank’s website.
Are Christmas Club accounts worth it?
Christmas Club accounts generally have low interest rates. However, they can be worthwhile if they help you put money away regularly and thereby avoid a holiday spending blowout using credit cards.
Is there interest on Christmas Club accounts?
Yes, most accounts offer interest. The rates, though, tend to be lower than the interest rates for regular savings accounts, money market accounts, and certificates of deposit (CDs).
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