Going Into Debt Goes Out of Style

Americans have been notoriously free and easy about going into debt to buy things they want. A New York Times/CBS News poll gives a hint that this has changed, though, amid a credit crunch and likely recession. It asked, “How comfortable are you personally with having debt other than a mortgage or car payment?” A majority (53 percent) said they’re “mostly uncomfortable” about this, vs. 39 percent “mostly comfortable.” (The rest declined to answer.)

Of course, wanting to avoid debt and being able to avoid it are two different things. The same poll asked people whether, compared to a year ago, they’re more comfortable or less comfortable “about being able to pay off the credit-card and other debt you currently owe.” Eighteen percent said they’re more comfortable about their debt-paying powers, 20 percent said they’re less so and most of the rest said there’s no difference between then and now.

Thirty-eight percent said their household income is “more than enough so you can save and buy some extras”; 46 percent said it’s “just enough to meet your bills and obligations.” Thirteen percent said they don’t have enough to cover those expenses.