The Bankruptcy Bill and the Plastic Safety Net

With just five days until the Bankruptcy Bill goes into effect -- the measure Congress passed last spring with the votes of 18 Democratic Senators and 73 House Dems -- comes a disturbing new report from the Center for Responsible Lending and Demos about debt in America.

Drawing on vast reams of data from the national survey of household debt, the report finds that debt and bankruptcies are skyrocketing not because of frivolous spending, but because job instability and medical expenses are forcing families to use credit cards as a safety net:

The new bankruptcy bill was passed, in part, based on a stereotype that credit card debt results from extravagant and irresponsible use. The Demos/CRL survey contradicts that widespread belief, showing that lower-income families, by and large, are using credit cards judiciously and trying to pay them down responsibly.

Among the findings in the survey:

* Seven out of 10 low- and middle-income households reported using their credit cards as a safety net - relying on credit to pay for car repairs, basic living expenses, medical expenses or house repairs.

* Households that reported a recent job loss or unemployment, and those without health insurance, were almost twice as likely to use credit cards for basic living expenses.

* $8,650 is the average credit card debt of a low- and middle-income indebted household in America.

The report also notes that, at the same time families are being forced into using plastic to pay the bills, credit card companies are making it harder to escape debt, including changing "the interest rate and other terms of credit any time and for any reason."

But instead of helping millions of families, Congress decided to Leave No Banker Behind.