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Bad Debts

An estimated 10 million Americans could soon fall into a financial abyss because of a condition many people don't even consider to be a problem: indebtedness. According to Terrell Hayes, a researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, at least that many people have a potential problem with debt.

"Debt is not viewed as a legitimate problem. The phenomenon is comparable to where alcoholism was 50 years ago," says Hayes.

In a study he researched from 1993 to 1995, Hayes conducted in-depth interviews of 46 Debtors Anonymous members. The results? Hayes found women are more likely to label themselves as having a problem, while men typically have to be forced into acknowledgment.

The ultimate cost of all this debt? For individuals, Hayes found, it's personal problems, divorce and, in some cases, spousal abuse. As for the United States, he believes eventually our economy may reach the saturation point for writing off bad debts.

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This article was originally published in the July 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bad Debts.

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