Too Much, Too Soon, Too Easy. Americans and Their Credit Cards.
It seems as if bankruptcy filings have increased in the last two decades or so. Many times I wonder why this is the case. Have we as a society changed so much? Although I recollect when credit cards were not that easy to obtain, when I was a college student, almost every major credit card company tried to entice me with "free" gifts if I'd sign on their dotted line. What was most surprising was even though I was barely 18 years old, unemployed and a full-time college student, I was still offered credit...and a lot of it. By Thanksgiving of my freshman year at UConn, I had at least half a dozen cards. It was obvious the availability of consumer credit in the United States had shot through the roof.
Carrying higher amounts of debt renders families vulnerable to financial difficulty if there are any decreases or interruptions of income. Increasing interest rates and the fees credit card companies add on to a consumer's balance when the bill is not paid on time makes it even more difficult to zero out the balance. While I always thought it rather strange for credit card companies tack on more fees which in turn causes the consumer added stress and sometimes makes it impossible to pay back, I see how in most cases it keeps the money trickling to the creditors...an indefinite flow which eventually far exceeds the original charges.
All too often my clients feel helpless and bankruptcy is the only option to bring order and relief to their lives. While many of my clients feel alone in this struggle they should realize that approximately 1.5 million people file bankruptcy each and every year in this country. In 2005 Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Reform Act which made filing for bankruptcy a little bit harder and more costly and for some debtors less effective, but it is still a readily available solution for many.
Despite the changes to the law and the use and sometimes misuse of credit, the realities that exist that drive people to file have not changed. The cost of living has increased dramatically in this country while our monthly take home pay has not.