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Consumer Debt On The Rise

April 1st, 2008

Credit cards and payday loans can provide short-term convenience for some people, but consumers’ shift toward greater debt could have a long-term, negative impact on the U.S. economy, according to analysts.


The 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances showed that the percentage of families holding debt rose from more than 72 percent in 1989 to more than 76 percent in 2004. The median value of the debt more than doubled during that time, from $22,000 to more than $55,000, according to research analyst Kristie M. Engemann and economist Michael T. Owyang in the April issue of The Regional Economist.


Engemann and Owyang noted that 56 percent of American families in 1989 owned at least one credit card. By 2004, that figure jumped to almost 75 percent. The authors’ analysis shows that a higher percentage of single people and renters now have a credit card, as do workers with less job seniority, lower incomes and unskilled jobs.


In addition, the analysis indicates that payday loans have become an increasingly common form of short-term debt, especially among lower-income households. While payday loans are designed to lend small amounts of money for a short time (usually, about two weeks), one report indicates 90 percent of lenders’ revenue comes from borrowers who have five or more loans per year, not one-time borrowers, according to the report.


“This shift toward more debt appears to have long-term ramifications for the U.S. economy as evidenced by the growing number of personal bankruptcies over recent decades,” they wrote.



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