DEAR ABBY: I am a mortgage broker, and it is my job to review people's credit history. I am disturbed by the number of people who are mired in credit card debt. I just talked to a couple with four children who had more than $100,000 in credit card debt with an annual salary of $75,000.
This is an extreme case. However, it is not uncommon for people to be caught up in the vicious cycle of paying for things on credit and being able to afford only the minimum monthly payments of these cards. I feel the credit card companies are to blame for all their gimmicks of "preapproved" junk mail, and the consumer is to blame for not being able to throw this mail away instead of signing up. Credit cards encourage people to live beyond their means, creating financial stress in families.
If people are in that situation, I encourage them to call the credit card company to close their account and cut up their cards, except one with a low interest rate or one that is due monthly. If there isn't enough cash to pay for it -- don't buy it!
Use the card for emergencies only. Even though they may have to do without the new outfit or the larger television set, consumers will be happier without the stress that credit card debt can cause. Are there support groups available for "credit junkies"? -- FREE AND CLEAR IN FLORIDA
DEAR FREE AND CLEAR: I don't know about support groups for credit junkies, but consumer credit counseling services are available in most major metropolitan areas. To locate one, look in the Yellow Pages.
According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, in 1996 a record 1.1 million individuals filed bankruptcy -- up 27 percent from the previous year.
Your "credit card cut-up" is a step in the right direction, but major creditors also want to toughen the nation's bankruptcy code to make it more difficult to simply erase debts without further payment.