PhotoDespite the fact that U.S. retailers enjoyed a strong start to the holiday shopping season, there's evidence not all consumers are participating.

A poll continued online in November by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that 40 percent of respondents do not intend to spend any money on holiday purchases, as they anticipate experiencing further financial distress in the future.

The poll sends a strong signal that in spite of the increase in sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, a significant number of people lack enough confidence in their financial future to begin spending, even on traditional holiday expenses.

Not a reflection of general public

It should be noted that those taking part in the survey were generally consumers who were already struggling with finances, which is why they were on NFCC's website to start with. Still, the results are sobering.

"Historically, consumers have put aside their financial concerns during the holidays, even if to their detriment, and spent at some level," said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. "These figures provide a snapshot of the desperate situation in which consumers find themselves, and how seriously they are taking their situation."

Of note is the statistically significant increase reflected in the year-over-year trend. The NFCC posed the identical set of poll questions in the same month one year ago.

Between November 2010 and November 2011, there was a six percentage point increase in the number of consumers who indicated they will spend zero dollars during the holiday season, evidence of the depth of the financial despair in the country.

Disturbing numbers

Also disturbing, says Cunningham, is that slightly more than half of all poll respondents indicated they would cut back on holiday spending, as their financial situation is worse this year than last. Combining those who will cut back on spending with those who will not spend at all, a full 91 percent of consumers are clearly concerned enough about their financial circumstances that they will remain on the spending sidelines this holiday season.

Looking at the two categories with the lowest responses, seven percent revealed that they will spend as they did in 2010, and a modest three percent will spend more than they did last year.

"Consumers are doing themselves a disservice if they do not reach out to a legitimate credit counseling agency for help surviving these difficult economic times, as there may be solutions available that have not been considered," said Cunningham.

NFCC is a 60 year old organization of credit counselors, many of whom are non-profit. They are very different from debt or credit “settlement” firms, that often make big promises but fail to deliver any relief.

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