Last time around I wrote about the importance of not getting into debt while you’re young. (Remember, those credit card offers you’re getting right now are bad, bad news). This time, I want to make an example out of some people we all know who just keep digging themselves – and by extension us – into more and more trouble because they refuse to stop borrowing.
I’m not talking about your best friend who spends more on shoes than tuition, neither of which she can afford. And, I’m not talking about your boy who spends all his money on looking good for women he can’t hold onto anyway, and then asks you to hold $10 to get up in the club.
I’m talking about some folk whose spending has a much greater impact on all of us: Congress.
See, just like us, the government borrows money when it needs or wants something it can’t afford. As much as they subtract from your paycheck, the government doesn’t collect enough from us to pay for what it spends on Social Security, Medicare, road construction and of course, the military.
In fact, the government is so deep in debt right now, it barely collects enough in taxes to make the interest payments on what it already owes.
And since controlling spending and raising taxes would mean not being re-elected (would you vote for somebody who was honest enough to say that funding more Pell Grants would mean taking more out of your check every week), the government just borrows more money to pay for what it can’t afford.
Many of us are spending like there’s no tomorrow, even when tomorrow came in the mail yesterday with a pile of bills that we have no means of paying off. When the bills stack up too high, some people just borrow more instead of cutting back on what they spend, increasing the inevitability of a financial disaster.
Usually that disaster comes when all the bills are due, cash is low and you just can’t borrow any more money. By this point, your credit is surely damaged. That’s when the bill collectors start calling.
But, everyone in Congress must have a credit score so high that they’ve never gotten a call from a bill collector, because they’re still borrowing. Getting close to their own credit limit of nearly $9 trillion, Congress raised it to more than $9.8 trillion on Sept. 27.
Must be nice.
Imagine if you could raise your own credit card limit as soon as you got close to maxing out. Of course, eventually you’d have to pay it all back, but I guess when you’re Congress, you leave that for the next man to worry about.
So what lessons should you, a college student, learn from Congress’ lack of discipline over its own wallet?
For one, it should show you how easy it is for debt to get you into trouble.Iif the government, with all its money is still borrowing money it can’t pay back, you should definitely be cutting up the credit cards.
But if that’s not enough to motivate you to put away the plastic, consider this: Congress’ debts are really yours. They’re in office for a few years, but you’re an American for a lifetime. When the government can finally borrow no more and the bill collectors start calling, Congress could start looking for those extra tax dollars you don’t want to pay.
You might just want to stop spending and start saving now, just in case.
Keith Reed is an award-winning journalist who covers business for the Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Coppin State University.