Credit card debt called 'the American way'

April 19, 2011 at 11:06 PM
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CORVALLIS, Ore., April 19 (UPI) -- Younger Americans using credit cards and piling up debt are being enabled by parents who encourage them to use credit as a "safety mechanism," a study says.

Oregon State University researchers found Americans spent 9.3 percent of their income in 2008 servicing debt, and in 2010 more than 24 percent of U.S. homes had an upside-down mortgage, an OSU release reported Tuesday.

Researchers found even though consumers acknowledge they should limit their debt, they take on significant debt because doing so has become normal or, as one study participant put it, "the American way."

Some younger participants in the study noted that they did not want to use credit but felt they had to so they could finance cars and homes in the future.

And most of the younger participants said they were encouraged by their parents to have credit cards, and started using credit at a much younger age than did those older than 50.

"Over time, credit card use and heavy debt has become normalized in our culture," OSU researcher Michelle Barnhart said. "Even though we say as a society, 'don't get in debt,' the overwhelming messages being sent out -- from the way credit is used to approve or disapprove us for services to political leaders telling us to spend after a big disaster to prove our patriotism -- all of this has created a culture of debt.

"It's easy to sit back and blame consumers for just spending too much, but the truth is we have an entire infrastructure set up to support, maintain and encourage credit card use and debt," Barnhart said.

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