Your Personal Debt Is Not Entirely Your Fault

Since March 2015, Keith Weiner of the gold standard institute, United States, contributes on This post is another great insight for a simple fact that traders often forget.

If you’re in debt and sinking deeper, you’re not alone. Especially if you are young, the high price of a college education combined with a weak job market has hit you hard. It’s easy for older people to say you should spend less, but life would be a lot less fun without a mobile phone, nice car, new clothes, or going out with friends. This is how credit card debt piles up on top of a car loan and student loans. I don’t want to let you off the hook entirely, but I need to say something important.

It’s not entirely your fault.

You—and all of us—are the collateral damage of the zero interest rate policy of the Federal Reserve. This policy causes decreased savings and increased borrowing, and therefore debt. Let’s look at the savings side first.

saving and spending

saving and spending (Photo credit: 401(K) 2013)

It’s discouraging to look at your bank balance month after month, and see that it doesn’t really increase except when you make a deposit. Setting aside money out of your paycheck can feel pointless. It’s a sacrifice of your quality of life today, and for what? The dollar is falling. If you live without a car today, so you can set aside the money until you turn 65, it might be enough to buy a skateboard. Saving feels like a really bad deal. It’s not entirely irrational to spend valuable money now, before it loses its value.

In a normal world, the compounded interest eventually adds more to your bank balance every month than your new deposits. Zero interest does something more serious than just demoralizing savers. It eliminates compounding, making it much harder to grow your savings. Even if you save the same percentage of your monthly income as your parents did, your savings account will fall farther and farther behind. They were earning interest.

Now, let’s look at borrowing. Unlike what the bank gives you on your stagnant savings, the interest you pay on your debt is not zero. Compounded interest works just fine on what you owe, increasing your burden of debt with each passing month.

However, borrowing is extraordinarily cheap by any historical comparison. When the cost of borrowing is too low, it becomes an irresistible siren song luring people into debt. That $60,000 annual bill to attend Harvard doesn’t seem so bad if you can borrow the money. It’s even better if your low monthly payment is only $650 a month, and best of all if payments are deferred until after you graduate.

When credit is too cheap, people use it to buy what they want. This pushes up the price to the point, well, to the point where the cost of a year at Harvard is now sixty grand. The prices of other things you need like a car and a nice place to live, are also bid up. If you refuse to borrow, you are out of the game. It is a no-win situation.

With little incentive to save, and with the lack of compounding working against you, it’s no wonder that you don’t put 10% of your paycheck into the bank every month. The rising cost of a lifestyle worth living is fueled by those who borrow more. It can feel like you have little choice but to borrow to keep up.

Many older people may offer you advice, or try to make you feel guilty. That’s not helpful. My message is something quite different. The Fed, with its zero interest policy, deserves much of the blame for your financial troubles. Until we get out from under the Fed, you won’t get out from under your growing debt.

Keith Weiner
Keith Weiner is president of the Gold Standard Institute USA in Phoenix, Arizona, and CEO of the precious metals fund manager Monetary Metals.
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  1. Bruno

    Something of a cop-out feel-good answer to decadent spending habits of younger Americans. I earn practically nothing on my savings now. The majority of my savings was money I put there, not capital gains or interest. I’m low 50’s. However…

    1. Got a college degree by working summers and every holiday to pay for half of it. Went to a public college. Lived with 3 other roomates in a dump. No spring break trips. Just more work.

    2. My parents saved and we did without things so that I there would be money for the other half of the cost. No BMW leases, no cable TV, no big vacations, all of which are the norm today for people who make far less than my father did. I wore hand me down clothes to school. I played with sticks for a gun in the back yard..

    3. My first vacation as an adult came when I was in my mid 30’s. I had not seen the ocean since about 20 years earlier. How many recent college grads can say that? Not any I hear from.

    4. My first car was used. As was my second, third, etc. I bought a new truck for a business, finally. Regular cab, 4 cylinder, base model. No “near luxury” sedan as a “first car after graduation” here.

    5. Six day work weeks doing brutally hard manual labor in a small business till I was in my mid 30’s. Then I loafed and only worked 5 days a week. No “I have a degree, I don’t sweat” attitude here. My courtship with my wife consisted of her bringing me something to eat as I collapsed on the sofa exhausted. No hitting the bars for $20 bar brand drinks here.

    6. My furniture at my first home was used. Nothing nice till I was in my 40’s. My TV was bought at a scratch/dent sale at Service Merchandise. 25″. My ONE TV.

    7. No maid, no lawn service, no handy man service, if I breaks I stay up late and fix it.

    8. Had I reversed all this and done “the norm” I would have almost no savings, like most people today. Instead I will be retiring in my 50’s before I wreck my body further. This is all despite multiple crashes in the market and low interest rates.

    I don’t think telling young people “it’s not your fault” is productive at all. They will take it as carte-blanche to continue living the lives their parents couldn’t even afford.

    1. Keith Weiner
      Keith Weiner


      Thanks for your comment. I tried to make a more nuanced point. Of course, I am not trying to excuse profligate spending. I am trying to say: the system offers perverse incentives. And we should not be surprised when those incentives lead to perverse outcomes.

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