Drowning In Debt

Singer Hilary Duff signs autographs at the Z100 & InTouch Weekly Z Village event in the parking lot of the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 18, 2007. GETTY IMAGES/Bryan Bedder

With a child at home, a baby on the way and bills stacked like firewood, Jeff and Jeannie Bryant don't have a dime to spare.

"There are a lot of months we've paid all of our bills and there's nothing left and I still cry. And I think that I can't take my daughter to McDonald's because I did all that spending back then," admits Jeannie.

But with prayer and a plan they are trying desperately now to dig their way out of debt — $19,000 in credit card debt, reports CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

"Pretty much our mind set about money was, it's nothing but money. You spend, you'll have more," recalls Jeff. "It was like a lifetime shopping spree. Just pull the card. It was a blast."

And millions of Americans are taking the same ride and ending up in the same place. According to the Federal Reserve,
consumer credit debt stands at a record $1.5 trillion. While personal income has risen 72 percent in the past decade, personal debt is up 123 percent and rising.

Psychologist Olivia Mellan, who specializes in money issues, says Americans are drowning in debt. "There's tremendous societal pressure to urge us to just spend, spend, spend and fill up every need we have right now."

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There's a lot of pressure to spend and spend on credit — from shopping mall sales to slick advertisements. And credit card companies go after their clients young.

Eighteen-year-old Justin Sims, a senior in high school, says, "I use it for gas, clothes, whatever."

At universities across the country, kids can apply for a card and get a free gift. That's often how it starts.

Need Debt Trouble Help?
There are several web sites that have resources available to get you back on track to financial health:

myvesta.org

National Foundation For Credit Counseling

Jump Start Coalition

Institute of Consumer Financial Education

Federal Trade Commission 'Back In The Black' Campaign

Attorney Dennis O'Sullivan specializes in bankruptcies. "They lie to themselves. They don't face the reality that the credit card is creeping up."

The Bryants' faced reality and avoided bankruptcy by seeking credit counseling. They now live on a budget. But with nothing in savings and only Jeff working full time, Jeannie realizes they are one layoff or medical emergency away from financial ruin.

Still the walk to the mailbox isn't what it used to be. "Hey, no bills today," proclaims Jeannie.

And so for the Bryant's, and families like them, it's one day at a time — without credit cards.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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