Previous generations were ashamed of debt. Not only was it relatively rare, but it was also widely regarded as a moral issue. How different things are today! In the first quarter of 2011, U.S. households owed $11.5 trillion in consumer debt, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. True much of that was secured on real estate, but if you strip out mortgages and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs), you're still left with $2.29 trillion. Divide that by the country's population of 312 million, and you find that every man, woman and child in America owes on average $7,340.
Of course, many owe nothing (babies, children, rich folk, those who are brilliant money managers), but that just means that many others owe more. And some owe much, much more.
Average credit card debt scary
In March 2012, Richard Barrington wrote a fascinating analysis of credit card debt (
Average credit card debt: It's bigger than you think
. Using Federal Reserve data, he showed that the 46.1 percent of U.S. households that have credit card debt owe, on average, $15,166 on their plastic.
Both those figures are surprising. The sum is scary, but the fact that it's shared by 46.1 percent of households is significant. Virtually one in two of your friends, relations and colleagues is likely to have
credit card debt
. So why should you be scared to talk about yours?
Talking about debt is difficult
It's those who have the biggest problems who are often the least likely to talk about them. Yet they're the very ones who need the most support. They're also the ones who are least likely to be able to keep their issues a secret in the long term.
Some debt collectors try (usually illegally) to leverage payments from the desperate by "mistakenly" letting the debtors' family, colleagues or neighbors know what's going on. Once in court, a debt case becomes a matter of public record. And a foreclosure is eventually going to be obvious to all.