New infographics reveal what Americans go into debt for

Life in debt, the American way.

  • 85 percent of Americans currently owe money.
  • We come to regret at least some of that debt.
  • Each of us needs to be thoughtful about how we finance our lives.

Not accruing some kind of debt is difficult. Student loans are inevitable for many, and if you're the home-owning sort, there's probably a mortgage loan taking a chunk out of your month income. Maybe a car loan, too. Then there's credit cards, which experts say you should pay all the way down ASAP to avoid owing punishing interest: After all, that's how issuers make their money, with making the minimum payment the ultimate sucker's game — you never get to $0. Paying late is even more costly.

There are also different attitudes about debt itself. The current U.S. president has proudly declared himself "the king of debt." Others aren't so sure it's a sustainable way to live.

Comet Financial Intelligence was curious to know how Americans feel about their debts and conducted a survey of 1,007 people via Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 82, with a mean of 32, and the male/female split was roughly equal. Debt Regret presents visualizations they created from their findings.

All infographics in this article are from Comet.

85 percent of us are currently in debt of some sort

www.cometfi.com

If there's one thing Americans still have in common in this fractious time, it's debt. It's how most of us live. Credit cards, of course, power many of our lifestyles, and, on average, over 60 percent are in their debt — women at 70.0 percent and men 59.6 percent. Cars, homes, and student loans come next, followed by medical bills. After that, our phones.

How much $$ are we talking about?

www.cometfi.com

Homes are far and away the most expensive things on our tabs. And though cars are dazzlingly expensive these days, they only come in at number three — student loans, a serious problem for people not born to bucks, have them beat.

For that unfeeling politician a few years back who said Americans wouldn't need government-supported healthcare if they bought cheaper phones, the survey says, "Nope." Not even close.

Paying on the “never, never”

www.cometfi.com

That's a popular nickname for financing a purchase in the parts of the U.K., and it sums up their appeal: You may not have the money to buy something now, but eventually you will. (See: Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?)

As payments wear on ad infinitum, though, we sometimes wonder if paying that thing off over time was really the best idea.

Chief among them? Student loans. (We told you it was a problem.) And then those deadly credit cards, whose debt can add up to spectacular — that is, crushing — levels when you start using one card to pay another, lather, rinse, repeat. It's a sort of payment-plan-pyramid. Homeowners are pretty chill about their mortgages, though.

And we don't always have the scratch for these monthly bills when they come due. Nearly half of us, 41.2 percent, have been late paying a medical bill, and almost a quarter of us have missed a student loan payment.

So, older and wiser you: What would you finance today?

www.cometfi.com

Of course, having the luxury to not finance something means you've got ample cash, and that doesn't describe a lot of us, especially with all we already owe. Now that your crazy youth is in your almost paid-off car's rear-view mirror, what would you consider worth the hassle now?

Well, big-ticket items. A home. Medical bills, which tend to be unavoidable if not inarguable. That car. And knowing how irresistible low APRs can be, some credit cards.

It's really sweet, and a sign of our growing appreciation for non-humans, that three quarters of us now consider a pet's medical bill worth borrowing for (see above). Engagement rings, those incredibly expensive baubles — the average one in 2016 was $6,163 — may no longer seem as worth impoverishing yourself and your loved one for.

As we said, and unfortunately, avoiding debt altogether is probably impossible for most Americans. The best approach is to try and be as knowledgeable and thoughtful about what you're doing as you can be before making a commitment you'll have to honor over an extended period of time.

Maybe you aspire to be a king of debt, too. But you certainly don't want to wind up a pauper of it.

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Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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