US consumers currently hold $880 billion in revolving debt, with a mean household credit card balance of approximately $6,000. Although economic factors play a role in this societal issue, it is clear that psychological forces also affect consumers’ decisions to take on and maintain unmanageable debt balances. The authors examine three psychological barriers to the responsible use of credit and debt. They discuss the tendency for consumers to (a) make erroneous predictions about future spending habits, (b) rely too heavily on values presented on billing statements, and (c) categorize debt and saving into separate mental accounts. To overcome these obstacles, the authors urge policymakers to implement methods that facilitate better budgeting of future expenses, modify existing credit card statement disclosures, and allow consumers to easily apply government transfers (such as tax credits) to debt repayment. In doing so, the authors highlight minimal and inexpensive ways to remedy the debt problem.
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