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The Credit Card Debt Crisis: The Next Economic Domino

Hot on the heels of the banking crisis, the employment crisis, and the foreclosure crisis, the country is on the verge of a credit card crisis.

Hot on the heels of the banking crisis, the employment crisis, and the mortgage/foreclosure crisis, the country is on the verge of experiencing a credit card crisis.

According to the Federal Reserve, the total outstanding credit card debt carried by Americans reached a record $951 billion in 2008 -- a number that will only climb higher as more and more people reach for the plastic to make ends meet. What's more, roughly a third of that is debt held by risky borrowers with low credit ratings.

Credit card defaults are on the rise and are expected to hit 10 percent this year. This will obviously drive many banks closer to failing their stress tests -- but it will have an even greater impact on the lives of people who find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into debt.

It's a particularly vicious economic circle: every day, Americans, faced with layoffs and tough economic times, are forced to use their credit cards to pay for essentials like food, housing, and medical care -- the costs of which continue to escalate. But as their debt rises, they find it harder to keep up with their payments. When they don't, banks, trying to offset losses in other areas, then turn around and hike interest rates and impose all manner of fees and penalties... all of which makes it even less likely consumers will be able to pay off their mounting debts.