Americans Uneasy With Debt, But They Borrow Anyway

Discomfort with personal debt transcends age and gender groups, yet consumers continue to borrow anyway, according to Mediamark Research Inc.

The consumer segmentation analysis groups adults according to their level of comfort with personal debt. Based on data from New York-based Mediamark's bi-annual "Survey of the American Consumer," researchers grouped adults (age 18+) into four distinct attitudinal groups regarding money borrowing.

"Balk the Bank" consumers are very uncomfortable with borrowing money; essentially, they hate doing it. Members of the "On Someone Else's Dime" segment are credit-reluctant in their attitudes. They don't feel as strongly negative about borrowing as members of the "Balk the Bank" segment, but it does make them uncomfortable.

The next group, "To Their Credit," are credit realists. They don't necessarily like to borrow money, but it doesn't make them uncomfortable to do so. Finally, the last group, "I.O.U." consumers, have the mindset of a credit enthusiast: they are not averse to borrowing, and borrowing does not increase their anxiety levels.



The majority of adults (57.2%) fall into the "Balk the Bank" segment. This is true for men (54.6%), women (59.6%) and all age groups. Moreover, this pattern remains true despite the actual debt adults report they carry. For instance, 52.1% of adults who report they "Always or Usually" carry credit card debt and 54% of those with a second mortgage are in the "Balk the Bank" segment--the group most uncomfortable with personal debt.

"What this segmentation shows pretty clearly is that people's preferences and actual behavior are not always in sync," says Anne Marie Kelly, vice president/marketing and strategic planning at Mediamark, in a release. "What's interesting is the widespread discomfort with borrowing, despite all the evidence we have concerning the personal debt level in the U.S. One insight for financial marketers is that programs that make debt easier to manage and accept will resonate with their customers and prospects."

The next-highest category, "To Their Credit," includes only 15.6% of adults, while "I.O.U." includes 14.3% and "On Someone Else's Dime" includes 12.9% of adults.

The statistics are derived from interviews Mediamark conducts with about 26,000 U.S. adults in their homes each year, where they are asked about their use of media, their consumption of products and their lifestyles and attitudes.

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