The Payback


In “The 'Democratization of Credit' Is Over — Now It's Payback Time,” Wall Street Journal reporter S. Mitra Kalita takes a hard look at how after decades of legislation making it easier for financial institutions to offer credit to even the lowest income earning Americans, these lenders have pulled back on offering services to the riskiest borrowers.

Federal Reserve data shows that the ratio of credit-card debt to income is 50% higher for the lowest two-fifths of Americans by income than for the top two-fifths. In the coming years those who have earned less but turned to credit to live like those in the middle class will no longer be allowed to live off their plastic and a lengthy repayment plan.


In many ways that’s a good thing given the testimony of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gave before Congress in July. Geithner said: "We now know that millions of Americans were…unable to evaluate the risks associated with borrowing to support the purchase of a home, a car or an education."

Actually, he and others knew that at the time, but I digress.

In her piece Kalita chronicled the stories of those who were forced to wean off their credit card usage and repay their debts.

In one debtor’s case:

“Out of college and working at the shoe store, Ms. King kept up a busy social life, eating out several times a week and going to movies — even as the collectors called. But she lost the shoe-store job in January, and then learned that a prospective new employer had rejected her after running a credit check. Fearing that her credit record would trip her up again and again, she resolved to fix her financial mess.

Gone are dinners at Red Lobster and Olive Garden and purchases like new basketball shoes. She has a part-time job as a tour-bus driver that pays $13 an hour plus tips. She held a second part-time job, in telemarketing, for several months, but it was on suburban Long Island, and getting there, using both the subway and a commuter train, finally became too much. She now is looking for a second part-time job closer by.”

I’m all for the debtor’s revolt, but one form of criticism from the other side is the question of what has happened to personal accountability. These banks charging outrageous interest rates that ultimately feel like financial indentured servitude ought to be fought. Yet, what are we doing to curtail our spending habits?


To those of you marred in debt, what lifestyle changes have you made to tighten your budget and pay what you owe?

Do you shop less? Have you cut your cable? Do you only eat Popeye’s on Tuesday? Have you turned to generic products at the grocery store? Have you traded in the salmon for ground turkey breast? Are you candles the new night light?


I’d love to hear from you.

Leave your comments below and send your recession tales to


Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.