The Next Crisis: Credit Card Debt?

It's not just mortgages that Americans are struggling with these days.

ByABC News
March 6, 2008, 1:11 PM

March 6, 2008 — -- The subprime mortgage mess may be grabbing the headlines, but the rapid growth of personal debt from mortgages, credit cards and other loans is part of a far larger problem facing millions of Americans.

"There's been an explosion of credit card debt," Dean Starkman, a senior business reporter at the Columbia Journalism Review told ABC News. "In the late '60s it was $10 billion adjusted for inflation. Today, it's $900 billion."

"Something like a third of all households have credit card debt over $10,000."

Exit polling during Tuesday's primaries revealed a stark fact. Almost eight out of 10 Democratic voters in Ohio said they are worried about their family's finances, and about four in 10 are "very" worried about them.

The American Bankruptcy Institute reports personal bankruptcy filings in February rose more than 15 percent compared with January.

"What's amazing about the rise in bankruptcy filings are that they've gone up in the face of rules that make filing for bankruptcy almost impossible for many Americans," said personal financial consultant Gary Shatsky.

How did so many Americans get into trouble with debt even before the current economic slowdown?

"Almost anybody can get a credit card, and it can be exchanged for almost anything," said psychology professor Stuart Vyse of Connecticut College, who has written the new book "Going Broke: Why Americans Can't Hold On To Their Money."

"We have the ability to buy things at home, on the Internet, through television, through 800 numbers, and with cell phones and portable devices it's much easier to do that," Vyse added.

The marketplace is always open and so much easier to access today.

"Thirty years ago if you wanted to buy something you had to go down town and you had to have the money. You had to make a much greater effort to do so, " Vyse said.

And you can use borrowed money to pay for all of your purchases. Before credit cards, that was far more difficult to do.