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"Before the recession, consumers were encouraged to carry debt, and spending was seen almost as a patriotic thing to do to stimulate the economy," said Michael Solomon, professor of marketing and director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Credit card debt isn't as accepted now; it carries more of a stigma." The recession, which began at the end of 2008, saw consumers sharply curtail credit card spending.
The overall amount of credit card debt dropped 8.8 percent in 2009 and 7.6 percent in 2010, before leveling out in subsequent years, according to the Federal Reserve.
The only other topic that makes people hold their tongues that much? Americans are more comfortable talking about politics, their religious views and their ages than they are talking about how much debt they carry on their credit cards, according to a new poll conducted for Credit
The poll also found Americans less willing to talk about their debt than they were five years ago, when the recession was just beginning to take shape.
About 85 percent of Americans said they are reluctant to chat about their credit card debt with someone they first met, compared to 80 percent who gave the same answer in an identical poll conducted in 2008.
"One person I interviewed was deeply religious and said he talked to his pastor about everything, including his wife's infidelity," Compeau said.
"But when he ran into financial problems, he wasn't comfortable sharing that with his pastor." Part of the problem, Compeau said, is that even though there are legitimate reasons people go into debt (medical bills, job loss), the American culture tends to assume that if you're having financial trouble, it's your own fault and you have some kind of character flaw.