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Obama Knows Firsthand About Consumer Debt

"The sooner we can stabilize the housing market, the better the economy will be."

Obama ticked off a list of his proposed economic fixes: another stimulus package, a universal health-care plan and tax cuts for the middle class.

When discussing consumer debt, Obama had a story to tell that was similar in some respects to that of many people in the country:

Until a few years ago, the candidate and his wife, Michelle, were deep in debt. Together, they were carrying $120,000 in student loans they had taken on to pay for law school.

"We were making payments the size of a mortgage every month," Obama said.

Although Obama acknowledged that he and his wife were blessed to have enough income to service that debt, it wasn't until he wrote two best-selling books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope," that the couple were able to pay it all off.

Were he to become president, Obama said he would initiate reforms to address "the whole debt industry that has really got people in a financial hole they never dig themselves out of."

I believe that when Obama talks about his family's situation, he gets that we must move away from an economy driven by debt-laden consumers.

Nonetheless, the problems are so large and the changes needed to correct them are so deep and far-reaching -- requiring legislative reforms and shifts in people's financial behavior -- that even a self-proclaimed change-agent president would be sharply tested on this issue.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online athttp://www.npr.org.

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

· By e-mail:singletarym@washpost.com.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.


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