Personal finances

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Two records that reflect U.S. economic trends have just been set, and both are cause for concern.

Overdue credit-card bills climbed to an all-time high of 4.81 percent in the second quarter of this year. And the personal savings rate dipped to a record low of negative 0.6 percent in July.

Both of these measurements reflect a growing dependency on credit and not enough disposable income to stay current with monthly payments.

Analysts blame high prices for gasoline and other energy products for much of the problem with late credit-card payments. They say that too many Americans are relying too heavily on credit when they are in an economic pinch. Even those who have jobs and try to pay bills on time frequently use credit cards when emergency expenses arise, mainly because they have no savings to fall back on.

And the negative savings rate indicates that many Americans had to use some of their savings to cover their spending, because their take-home pay wasn't enough to cover the bills. When this happens, economists say, there is even further reliance on debt, credit card or otherwise.

Adding to the credit-debt pinch is the fact that many lenders don't encourage good money management because of lucrative late-payment fees they collect. But borrowers who get behind face an even tougher credit future, because late payments reflect poorly on credit ratings.

While managing finances is a personal responsibility, easy credit -- despite rising interest rates -- has enticed many borrowers go go into debt far beyond their means to repay what they owe. Lenders, especially credit-card companies, should shoulder some of the burden for helping Americans to become more responsible with their money.

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