Americans worried about debt

87 percent know the total amount on each of their debts.
"Part of it may be that you're talking to a broad range of consumers who might have one car loan and one credit card," explains Detweiler. "In that case it's pretty easy to keep track. When consumers contact me, they usually have eight or nine credit cards and multiple other loans. The more you have to juggle, the more difficult it is to stay on top of the details."

86 percent understand how interest and finance charges are calculated on what they owe.
Mandell admits it took him a couple days to figure out exactly how his credit cards calculate finance charges. "There are so many variants and the card companies change them so frequently that I would doubt that 1 percent of Americans really know how interest and finance charges are calculated on what they owe. It's just so incredibly complicated," he says.

Viale says that the level of knowledge reported in the survey is uncommon among those that he educates throughout the community. "Through our outreach, which includes all age groups and income levels," he says, "our respondents indicated that only 10 percent knew the interest rates on their debt. Furthermore, of all our respondents, less than 5 percent knew how interest and finance charges were calculated. Almost none of the thousands of the people we have educated understand two-cycle billing."

83 percent read contracts fully before signing up for a loan or credit card.
Mandell laughs off this result, suggesting that lips loosened by a few drinks among friends would tell a different tale. "Most of your friends won't have read it. I would really doubt that 5 percent of people even read their mortgage and I doubt that very many people at all read their credit card -- the credit card statements are almost indecipherable. That's why when you ask statements of this type, I think that people want to appear smart and alert and do the right thing. Based on all the studies that I've done, it's really not going to happen."

He suggests that if questions had been prefaced with the statement, 'Statistics show that very few people take the time to completely read through their loan agreements, do you?' then only 5 percent would have said yes. "When you put it in a very open positive way, it's like saying, 'Do you treat your children well?' Then everyone is going to say yes. Even in their own eyes, people want to appear more positive."

"I just do not believe that 83 percent fully read all their contracts before they sign up for a credit card and I know why: It's very difficult," says Detweiler. "I believe that's the before. After they get the cardholder terms in the mail, they don't read that. The application is shorter than the actual contract."

See the results of our savings poll


-- Posted: Feb. 25, 2008

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