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We're in a private debt crisis that could lead to the next economic collapse: Richard Vague

·Nicole Goodkind

The U.S. is in the midst of a private debt crisis.

As of March 2014, American consumers owe $11.52 trillion in debt, an increase of 1.6% from last year. The average household owes $7,115 on their credit cards and the average indebted household owes $15,252. Americans owe $8.05 trillion in mortgages (the average mortgage debt being $152,209) and $1.08 trillion in student loan debt. When combined with corporate debts the U.S. collectively owes about $28 trillion in private debt.

Related: China heading toward a debt crisis with global ramifications: Banking vet

“Every major crisis of our lifetime has been caused by a rapid increase of our private debt,” says Richard Vague, chair of the Governor’s Woods Foundation. “They all were a function of runaway private lending.”

People focus too much on government debt, argues Vague, when they should be attempting to quell private debt.

Related: Exploding student loan debt threatens the housing recovery

“There’s reputed to be 10 million mortgages that are still underwater,” he says. “There’s perhaps a half or ¾ of a trillion in second-lean loans that are still a problem and haven’t been dealt with. Those to us are logical candidates for restructuring programs.”

Restructuring loans is a controversial issue and there’s little incentive for banks to do so. Vague suggests allowing banks to spread the losses over a very extended period of time with a one-time dispensation that says "you can spread your losses over 30 years if today you go to the borrower and restructure with them’ they would get rid a problem and get to clean things up.”

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