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Study: Americans lie about credit card debt because of social stigma

One-third of Americans see credit card debt as more embarrassing than other types of debt, with students and younger people the most embarrassed by credit card debt.
By Stephen Feller   |   Feb. 27, 2016 at 5:39 PM

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Americans under-report their credit card debt by more than $400 million, generally because of the social stigma associated with it, according to a recent study.

Researchers found just over one-third of Americans see credit card debt as more embarrassing than other types of debt, with students and younger people the most embarrassed by credit card debt.

While researchers at Nerd Wallet found credit card and other types of debt went up in their recent study, they said incomes largely have not increased in the last decade and greater use of debt is product of the times.

"Increasing debt loads aren't just a result of irresponsible spending," researchers wrote in the study. "There are many factors at play in the increasing amount of debt being carried in homes across the country."

For the study, the researchers interviewed 2,017 American adults over age 18 during November 2015, found the average credit card-debt carrying household owed $15,355, and has $129,570 in total debt.

When comparing lender-reported amounts of debt with self-reported numbers, the actual numbers were 155 percent higher than customers said. Most people lied about how much credit card debt they carry because they feel judgements are more harsh for it than for student loan or mortgage debt.

Often, the judgement is that people have been irresponsible, which leads to the debt, however the researchers said that while the average American salary has gone up 26 percent in the last decade, the cost of living has gone up 29 pecent -- meaning food, housing, clothing and other basic life expenses have gone up in price faster than people's incomes.

The researchers said about 35 percent of study participants were more embarrassed of credit card debt than other types of debt. While only about 25 percent of people judge others for their credit card debt, nearly half also said they might not want to date somebody with a high level of debt.

"The stigma is real, and it can be damaging and counterproductive," said Sean McQuay, an analyst at Nerd Wallet. "My message to Americans in debt: You are not alone. Reach out and see what's worked for other people. Don't ignore your debt -- come to terms with it, and climb out of it."

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