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All you should need to do is sign up for NY Times, which is painless (I told them to leave me alone and I don't believe they are the source of any of my viagra substitute or other Spam).

Not much detail in the article, but a fe excerpts:

Consumer debt hit a record $1.98 trillion in October 2003, according to the most recent figures from the Federal Reserve. That debt -- which includes credit cards and car loans, but not mortgages -- translates to some $18,700 per U.S. household.

At the same time, the government says the nation's savings rate dropped to just 2 percent of after-tax income in the first half of the year. That means many people lack the means to deal with financial emergencies, much less their eventual retirement.

Experts worry about the impact not only on individual families but on society as a whole.


The nation's credit card debt currently stands at $735 billion, or nearly $7,000 per household. And since about 40 percent of card users pay their balances in full each month, the household card debt of those who carry balances is closer to $12,000.


There's debate about how the high debt levels and demanding repayment schedules will affect the economy.

Americans currently spend a near-record 18.1 percent of their after-tax income to cover debts, including mortgages. That limits their ability to borrow more to spend more, and consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the economy.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has pointed out that because of low interest rates, consumers can more easily handle their debt so the level is ``not a significant cause for concern.'

Economist Sung Won Sohn of Wells Fargo & Co. agrees that for now, most Americans are OK and should continue to be the driving force in the nation's economic growth.

Still, he said, the level of debt does raise concerns.

``In the long run, it's a ticking time bomb,' Sohn said. ``At some point when you get a sharp setback in the economy or a spike in interest rates, the high debt causes instability.'
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