Let's Make It Cool to Save

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, May 11, 2008

A coalition of consumer advocates, public policy groups and academics wants to attack our country's dependence on debt by creating a national campaign much like the one used to curb smoking.

It's a good idea given the current economic crisis. Maybe people might benefit from a snappy way to put a stop to their accumulation of debt. How about "Thrifty is nifty"?

Okay, probably a little corny. But the idea of a nationwide advertising campaign has a lot of merit. It certainly has worked for the debt pushers.

The organizations leading this effort include the Institute for American Values, the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, the New America Foundation, Public Agenda, Demos, the Consumer Federation of America, and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.

"We are trying to change attitudes," said David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values. "We would like to put in a good word for thrift as a value and a practice."

The coalition is holding a conference in Washington tomorrow and Tuesday and has issued a report, "For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture."

There's no major revelation in the 68-page report. It merely lists the many ways debt has taken down so many people.

Foreclosures, which soared to more than 1 million in 2007, are predicted to affect about 2.5 million households this year. Consumer bankruptcy filings are also up significantly.

Of course, there is the mortgage meltdown. And now auto loan and credit card delinquencies are also rising.

But even before the subprime debacle, many people were struggling with debt. The Federal Reserve recently reported that consumer credit increased by $15.3 billion in March, to $2.56 trillion.

"Millions of families today feel the American dream slipping away," the coalition's report says. "They are losing hope of escaping from the cycle of over-indebtedness, holding a good-paying job, or moving up the income ladder."

So who's at fault for all this indebtedness?

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