The tempestuous household economy and the rapid rise in debt over the last decade have been well-documented but not thoroughly understood. Existing data sources tracking debt, such as the Federal Reserve Board's triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, provide a limited picture of household indebtedness. Existing sources couldn't answer the simplest of questions, including how long the average household has been in debt and what types of purchases led to outstanding balances. Prior to the survey findings presented in The Plastic Safety Net, there has been no data available to study how households are using credit cards and how they are managing their debt. The Plastic Safety Net presents findings from a national survey of households with credit card debt commissioned by Demos and the Center for Responsible Lending. The survey consisted of 1,150 phone interviews with low- and middle-income households whose incomes fell between 50 percent and 120 percent of local median income. In order to participate in the survey, a household had to have credit card debt for three months or longer at the time of the survey.
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