It is not uncommon for people to have debt. Since the advent of the charge card in the 1950s, Americans have been charging more and more. There are over 641 million credit cards in circulation, accounting for approximately $1.5 trillion of consumer spending; clearly the American public enjoys the convenience of credit cards.
But convenience at what price? The average credit card debt is $9,300, a result of a culture of mass consumerism. Unlike our parents or grandparents, some forms of debt were seen as stigma, but not anymore. Our elders taught us the virtue of thrift and frugality, a penny saved is a penny earned. It was a badge of honor to qualify for credit, you had to exhibit a job and stable income to prove you were worthy of the privilege. Now that is no longer the case, credit is seen as a right and an entitlement.
The case for entitlement was created by credit card companies that spent billions of dollars in advertising and marketing to make you Just Do It. American consumers imbibed the message of instant gratification and credit card companies started minting money. Our nation is a credit card nation, drowning in debt and paying for todays consumption tomorrow.
It is scary that 15 percent of Americans disposable income is used for servicing credit debt, actually interest on that debt. Instead, 15% of your disposable income should be used annually to build up your cash reserves. As the use of credit grows, the amount set aside for savings goes down. The national savings rate in 2006 was negative 0.5%, again minus 0.5%!
Lets put that savings rate into shocking perspective. The only times the national savings rate had been negative a full year occurred in 1932 and 1933, following the huge job losses stemming from the 1929 Great Depression. It took a tragedy of such enormity, the Great Depression to force people to spend their savings to survive. But now we spend to profligate, to quench our indulgence, instant gratification beyond economic necessity.
As a nation we are addicted to credit cards, our very economy depends on it. It is continual high consumption by Americans that is the critical engine for economic growth. If consumption goes down, alarm bells go off and the economy starts slowing down.
Alas, the nation finds itself in the throes of unabated mass consumerism, propelled by easy access to credit. So what do we do? Do we start seeking credit reports, credit repair, credit scores, credit counseling, debt counseling, debt consolidation, debt settlement, and credit card consolidation in the hopes of remedying our past credit excess. Well it may be a start, but ultimately it is self-discipline that will endure.