Years of spending more than they earn have left a record number of Americans standing at the edge of financial distress as the debt they have amassed continues to grow because of high interest rates and fees, according to a feature in yesterday’s New York Times. While the circumstances surrounding each individual’s financial downfall vary, one element is identical: the lucrative lending practices of America’s merchants of debt have led millions of Americans – young and old, native and immigrant, affluent and poor – to the brink. While the increased availability of credit has contributed mightily to the American economy and has allowed consumers to make big-ticket purchases like homes, cars and college educations, the increase in consumer debt is a major shift in the way lenders approach their business. In earlier years, actually being repaid by borrowers was crucial to lenders. Now, because so much consumer debt is packaged into securities and sold to investors, repayment of the loans takes on less importance to those lenders than the fees and charges generated.