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Debt Management Guide 2008
Debt treadmill
Savings are at an all-time low in America, while the debt load continues to climb. How bad is it?
Debt treadmill
Americans falling deeper in debt

Americans have a love-hate relationship with debt.

They hate their bills when they come in every month. But if consumers don't have any debts, chances are they're dreaming of ways to acquire some, from the perfect home or fairytale wedding to that great new car.

"The usual line, another year older and deeper in debt, applies to most Americans," says David Wyss, chief economist for Standard & Poor's.

Savings are at an all-time low. The amount Americans are putting aside in savings each month totals 0.7 percent of their net income, according to April numbers from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That's a near record low for the post-World War II era, says Wyss. Debt levels, on the other hand, "keep going up," he says.

Sixty-one percent of Americans shoulder nonmortgage debt, and almost two-thirds of those admit that the load is stressful, according to a recent Bankrate survey.

Bankruptcy rates, which fell dramatically after new legislation took effect in October 2005, have rebounded and are approaching old levels.

But there is a small light at the end of the tunnel. Whether it's because of tougher borrowing rules or consumers' increasing aversion to debt and bills, total borrowing is slowing, says Wyss.

"We seem to be getting a little more rational about lending and borrowing," says Wyss. "But there's still a lot of outstanding debt, a lot of which isn't going to get paid back."

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How bad is it?
-- Updated: June 16, 2008
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