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Saving us from our debt

The economic slowdown has exposed the extremes that have defined Americans for years: too much debt, chronic spending and little savings.

The economic slowdown has exposed the extremes that have defined Americans for years: too much debt, chronic spending and little savings.

The U.S. economy depends a great deal on consumer spending. Repeat after me: Consumption accounts for 70 percent of the $14.08 trillion U.S. economy.

To buy what we want, Americans have taken on massive amounts of debt. We have done so even as our savings have evaporated. No, check that: Even as we have blown it all.

Conventional wisdom says that when money gets tight in the household budget, you tighten your belt. But many of us haven't done that. We've taken on more debt. We've charged things on credit cards. We've refinanced the mortgage - two, three, four times. All in the name of delaying that payback.

So along comes the president and Congress with an economic stimulus check for you. What the politicians, economists and Wall Street want you to do is to run to Best Buy (better yet, drive your Hummer there) and buy that plasma TV. Or hit the mall to buy those spring fashions at Macy's.

By doing that, you'll be priming the U.S. economy, helping it pull up from the slide that's been occurring.

In other words, they don't think you should use that check to pay down your debt, pay off a credit card, pay a little extra on your mortgage, or pay off your car loan.

Or worse, to start saving. Americans have become lousy savers. Would the country collapse if enough folks starting shoveling that government gift coming sometime in May into a money market, CD, or a retirement account? Even trickier, what if you were to take that $300, $600 or $1,200 that's promised and had your employer shift that amount into your 401(k) account, boosting your savings for retirement.

Why we'd be acting in our own self-interest rather than for the greater good.

Look, we're all in this leaky economy together. But is it unreasonable to believe that one way the nation can begin to strengthen its balance sheet is for individuals to start fixing their own household finances?

In a rare instance of generosity, the federal government is giving you the chance to do that. And the checks will soon be in the mail.

Hill votes 'no'

New blogger and veteran banker Vernon W. Hill II writes that he voted against the pending $8.5 billion acquisition of Commerce Bancorp Inc. by Toronto-Dominion Bank.

The deal was approved by Commerce shareholders last week at a meeting at the bank's Commerce University in Mount Laurel at which lots of shareholders aired their concerns over the sale.

Hill, who did not attend the meeting, called the day "bittersweet" in a posting on Bankstocks.com:

"On the one hand, we created a huge amount of value for our shareholders over the years. On the other, the magic of Commerce and the bond among its incredible team members and customers will soon begin to slowly fade away. Nothing, however, can take away our accomplishments and our legacy of reinventing of retail banking."

He writes that he's been hearing about cost-cutting, that Toronto-Dominion is planning "to chip away at the Commerce magic."

"As T-D (whether it realizes it or not) transforms Commerce into just another bank, I'm afraid it might lose more in customer goodwill than it picks up in savings."

Hill joined the Bankstocks.com Web site as both a cochairman and a contributing writer in January. And it doesn't look like this will be his last word on the bank he founded in 1973. The blog intends to maintain a "Commerce Watch" on its site.

On the Spot

Mayor Nutter speaks to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel, 17th & Race Streets, 1 p.m., Wednesday.

Earnings

Today: Healthcare Services Group Inc.; Tuesday: Cephalon Inc.; Wednesday: GSI Commerce Inc., Jones Apparel Group Inc., Penn Virginia Corp.; Thursday: Comcast Corp.; Friday: Campbell Soup Co.

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