Consumer Debt

Each quarter, the Federal Reserve calculates the average percentage of debt payments to income for households in the U.S. In 1980, credit card and automobile lease payments were about 11% of disposable, or after tax, income. By 1998, they had climbed to 12%. In 2006, that percentage broke 14%. During 2008, the American consumer has been whittling down that percentage to about 13.5% of disposable income.

Every 3 years, the Fed conducts a detailed survey of consumer finances. In its most recent released 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, the Fed found that 2/3 of families had applied for credit in the past five years. 30% of those had been either turned down or been approved for less credit than they applied for (pg 45). 73% of families had credit cards but only 60% of those with credit cards had balances due, a healthy sign that families were paying off their credit card balances each month (pg 46). However, those holding credit card balances saw a 25% increase in their balance to about $3000. The median interest rate on a bank type credit card was 12.3% (pg 47).

Einstein said that compound interest was the most powerful force in the universe. When we owe debt, that power of compound interest is working for the other guy, the company we owe the money to. That 12% in interest we pay to a credit card company is in after tax dollars, meaning that it is more like 15% – 20%, depending on the tax bracket we are in. Translating that into hours, it means that we may work 1/2 day to a day each week just to pay the interest on the debt. We become someone else’s work slave.

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