Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Facts of Personal Debt

A study released in January of this year, The Barna Group provided a data-driven snapshot of the U.S. population, providing a dose of objectivity to some much-debated, often-misunderstood issues. The Barna research explores matters beyond "who-will-Christians-vote-for" questions - for now - in favor of examining the perceived importance of 10 diverse issues. In the top tier of the ranking, three issues were considered “major” problems by Americans (all faiths, party affiliate, etc.): Those included poverty (78%), the personal debt of individual Americans (78%), and HIV/AIDS (76%). The issue of personal debt rose to the top when the survey group is delineated into Christians who have a deeper faith and among Republicans.

From MSN Money:
Of the households that did carry a credit card balance, the median amount owed was $1,900. That means half of the households with a balance owed more, and half owed less. (Medians are less subject to the skewing phenomenon that plagues averages; that’s why economists tend to favor them.)

Bill Whitt at the VIP Forum, a Washington D.C. research firm, by analyzing the credit card debts of all the households the Fed surveyed, Whitt discovered:
· Only 29% of households owe $1,000 or more on their cards.
· 21% owe $2,000 or more.
· 6% owe $8,000 or more.
· 4% owe $10,500 or more.
· 1% owe $21,400 or more.

Does this mean all the hand-wringing over consumer debt is so much noise? Hardly. Although most Americans seem to be avoiding the credit card trap, there are still plenty of people on the financial edge: More than a third -- 36% -- of those who owe more than $10,000 on their cards have household incomes under $50,000, according to the VIP Forum analysis. The percentage of disposable income used to pay debts is still near record highs.

Bankruptcy Rates
The U.S. bankruptcy filing rate climbed again in August of this year, reaching a new post-2005 high of 4,476 filings per day. The year 2005 is significant because it was the year that the bankruptcy law changed making it more expensive and more time-consuming to file bankruptcy as well as making bankruptcy less effective once debtors got to bankruptcy court. Despite these changes, the bankruptcy rate has become staggeringly high, and we appear to have returned to an era where we will have well more than 1 million annual bankruptcy filings.
[Read statistics]