Americans are getting better with their money, but in the process, we may be undermining the country’s financial recovery.
The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Tuesday that consumers are saving significantly more money now than they did before the recession began. In June, Americans put aside an impressive 6.4% of their income after taxes. By comparison, we saved less than 2% throughout most of 2007.
However, you could just as easily frame that news in the negative: Consumers are too scared to spend, which in turn scares businesses and investors. Consumer spending remained stagnant in June for the third month in a row, along with personal incomes.
In a very real sense, what’s good for consumers isn’t always what’s best for the economy. As DailyFinance notes, nearly three quarters of the country’s gross domestic product comes from consumer spending, which leads them to conclude that “this high savings rate is bad news.”
That opinion seems to be shared by other government officials, even if they choose not to say so explicitly. Rather than praise consumers for exercising better saving habits, the administration is more concerned with what it will take to get consumers spending again. Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, expressed his hope that an increase in average salaries in the next few months could lead to more consumer spending.
It’s particularly unfortunate because consumers are now increasingly demonstrating better judgment with their finances. Not only are Americans holding on to more of their money, but they are also paying back more of their loans. Similarly, consumers are charging less to their credit cards in order to balance their accounts, but this has provoked an extreme response. Credit card companies are boosting fees on their customers to make up for lost revenue and at least one issuer has attempted to turn down customers with good credit scores on the belief that their good spending habits won’t help the company “boost the bottom line.”