WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Federal Reserve figures show U.S. consumer debt has topped $2 trillion for the first time, continuing what debt experts call an alarming surge.
"It's a huge problem," Howard Dvorkin, president and founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services Inc., a nonprofit debt-management organization, told the Washington Post. "You cannot be the wealthiest country in the world and have all your countrymen be up to their neck in debt."
Robert Manning, a leading expert on the credit card industry, says families are likely to experience even greater stress as interest rates -- currently near historic lows -- inevitably rise.
"That's one of the trends that's really going to kill the American consumer in the next downturn," he said. "It's just impossible to keep these interest rates this low for much longer."
Tied to the record consumer debt levels is a surge in personal bankruptcies, which reached an all-time high of 1.6 million households in 2003, the Post said.
The $2 trillion figure is a doubling of America's consumer debt in less than 10 years. According to the Federal Reserve, the debt topped the $1 trillion mark for the first time in December 1994.