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Survey suggests Americans returning to financial recklessness of pre-recession economy

Apr 10, 2012 Walt Wojciechowski

Despite a recent recession that would seem to have forced frugality upon consumers, Americans appear frighteningly ignorant of basic financial skills, according to a survey released this week by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association. For example, more than half of surveyed adults - 56 percent - admit that they do not have a budget for their finances. Even more surprising perhaps, roughly one in three Americans (the equivalent of 77 million people) do not pay all of their bills on time. This has some profound implications for professionals involved in any sort of consumer finance or debt collection industry. While lawmakers and advocacy groups have criticized large banks for tightening their credit standards, some of these findings offer some reasoning for why they've done so. The survey also found 39 percent of adults carry credit card debt over from month to month, and roughly 40 percent claim they are now saving less than they were a year ago. Thirty-nine percent don't even have non-retirement savings, and one-quarter of these respondents indicate that, if they did begin to save, they would keep their savings at home in the form of cash. "This year's survey unveiled some disturbing trends, showing that a significant number of Americans are saving less, spending more and carrying credit card debt over from month-to-month, suggesting that the painful financial lessons of the past are quickly being forgotten," said Susan Keating, president and CEO of the NFCC. "Coupled with the two-in-five adults who gave themselves a C, D or F on their knowledge of personal finance, the need for an increase in financial education becomes not only clear, but urgent," Keating added. With skyrocketing student debt levels, the need to impart financial best practices is more important than ever, especially as much of this debt is likely to afflict young Americans more than older ones. The willingness to incur delinquent debts also spells trouble for debt collectors, even as demand has risen for such services in recent years. While consumer spending may be on the rise, it doesn't necessarily mean Americans are willing to spend on debt repayment.