Photo by Virgil Cayasa on Unsplash

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If you’re like most Americans today, you probably own one or more credit cards. Depending on your situation, you might have the cards charged to the maximum credit limit. In today’s America, we believe that instant gratification is our God given right.  We think nothing of pulling out our credit card and charging our wants and desires, even though, we know full well that we don’t have the money to pay for it now or even when the bill comes in.

Back when our grandparents were young, Americans saved for what they wanted. They did not go to the local mall or store and pull out their MasterCard, Visa, or any other of the plethora of credit cards Americans have become accustomed to using. They pulled out cold hard cash and paid for the item. Theirs was not instant gratification. They saved and did not borrow. Their debt was low.

National disaster – when you read those words what comes to mind? Is it the US’ budget deficit, the raising of the debt ceiling, the floods, or the earthquakes happening in the US? Those are all national disasters, but to me the largest and by far the worst national disaster, is the change in the savings system of Americans and in the wide acceptance of debt. Being in debt seems almost normal.

When did we become a nation that lived and depended on future earnings to pay for current wants? I think this happened right after World War II when the GI Bill was passed on June 22, 1944. (1) Before then, the government stayed out of loan guarantees. Yes, the bill had some great intentions, but it also opened up the future for credit debt.

In 1950, Diner’s Club and American Express created something new “plastic money” better known today as the charge cards. In 1951, Diner’s Club issued the credit card to about 200 customers. The card could be used in 27 restaurants in New York. In the early 1960’s, the London Transit Authority installed the magnetic stripe system. 

In 1970, with the establishment of standards for the magnetic strip, the credit cards became a part of the information age. Americans embraced credit cards with a newfound passion! The beauty of the card was instant gratification. If you wanted a new TV, washer, clothes, whatever caught you fancy and you did not have the cash, why there’s the credit card. No longer did Americans have to save for their purchases, as their parents had done. They just used plastic money. Saving for these purchases was all but forgotten.

In 1944, Americans saved 26% of their income. By 1970, this savings dropped to about 14%. In the 1980’s, it dropped to 5-7%. In 1990, savings dropped to almost zero. Why the decline? It’s quite simple really.

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