'World News:' Banks 'Deceived' Borrowers into Overextending Themselves

     The blame game for the personal credit woes plaguing the United States has been played over and over again. But fault is almost always cast upon the same party: banks, not borrowers. ABC “World News with Charles Gibson” was no different.


     “[John LaPerch] is like the millions of Americans, who at the height of the housing boom, watched the value of their home go up, along with the number of sweet deals arriving in their mailbox,” ABC correspondent David Muir said on the June 16 “World News.”


    The sweet deals Muir were referring to were credit card deals that “just showed up.” But rather than exercising discretion with these offers, LaPerch threw caution to the wind and “took advantage of it.”


     “I had a $1,000 credit limit,” said LaPerch. “Next thing I know, it’s up to 14 grand.”


     Now LaPerch finds himself $78,000 in debt on a “half dozen” cards that he is struggling to pay off. But, rather than using the opportunity to show viewers what can happen with they are irresponsible with their finances, the segment placed the blame on the companies that offered him the credit.


     “A USA Today analysis shows that at the peak of the housing boom, credit card companies quietly hiked cardholders’ spending limits, on average up 17 percent, to more than $8,000 a card,” Muir said. “And in many cases, much higher – without consumers asking for it.”


     Muir referred to a liberal advocacy group that compared the will of these borrowers to a domesticated rodent and called the process a “lucrative hamster wheel.”


     “Then the banks told consumers you can pay off those rising credit card bills by taking out a loan on your house, a home-equity loan, essentially borrowing more. One consumer advocate says, for the banking industry, it became a ‘lucrative hamster wheel.’”


     The “consumer industry group” Muir referred to was the Consumer Federation of America, a group that lobbies against businesses and for increased regulation. The group’s spokesman didn’t fault borrowers.


     “In many cases, consumers didn’t simply use home loans to pay down their credit card debt. They ran up more credit card debt,” said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for CFA. “This was a vicious cycle.”

     The report did include one brief defense of banks, from chief economist James Chessen of the American Bankers Association. “I think the issue really has been it was their prudence on the part of borrowers to not extend themselves too far,” said Chessen. “Many were using their home equity as an ATM machine.”

     Rather than treating the situation of LaPerch and a woman who has $140,000 in debt, including her house – as a lesson in financial irresponsibility, ABC’s Muir turned to a regulation proponent. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) also blamed lenders for providing the “ATM machine.”


     “They’re [lenders] the ones who gave them the ATM machine – an ATM machine they could not afford,” Maloney said.


     According to Muir, Maloney is pushing for a “credit-card bill of rights” in Congress that would further regulate the lending industry.


     According to a Business & Media Institute study, "Debt: Who’$ Responsible?,” businesses and lenders were blamed much more often for debt that borrowers (6 to 1 margin). That study also concluded that ABC News ignored personal responsibility 66 percent of the time.