America's nonchalance toward credit seems to be a thing of the past -- and it's easy to see why.
If the Aughts were driven by overspending and wanton acquisition, the check arrived with a vengeance in 2009.
The cliff-dive of home values sent foreclosure filings to a record high of 3.9 million, topping last year's record of 3.2 million, according to RealtyTrac Inc.
Bankruptcy filings also rose in 2009, with Chapter 7 filings up 45 percent and Chapter 11 filings up 68 percent for the year, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Not surprisingly, Americans shifted into frugal mode, clipping coupons, taking "staycations" and doing something they haven't done in years: saving.
The Commerce Department reports that Americans saved 4.4 percent of their disposable income in October. That's a huge jump from the average annual rate of 2.7 percent for the past 10 years.
Experts differ on whether this new frugality will last. However, Megan Bramlette, managing associate of Auriemma Consulting Group, says that while the recession has hit some harder than others, our national psyche has been reset by a collective brush with the dark side of credit.
"We're still spending, but maybe in a slightly more conscious manner," she says. "Gone are the days of, 'Well, I'm off shopping. Let's see how much I can bring home.' Now it's monitoring sales and comparing prices online."
Bramlette says the biggest shift in spending is also the most basic: "People are trying their hardest to pay their bills again."
In her view, the worst of the recession is behind us, as is the nation's carefree attitude toward credit.
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