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Stop Blaming Gas for Your Financial Woes

Behind on your credit card payments? Go ahead, blame your mother. It's a lot more reasonable than the excuse the American Bankers Association is making for the record number of consumers' late payments this quarter.

According to a recent survey, 4.81% of card accounts were 30 days or more past due in the second quarter, up from 4.76% in the first quarter. "Gas is the driving factor," James Chessen, the banker group's chief economist, told Reuters with metaphorical flair. "For those already struggling to meet their financial obligations, it has been one more strain."

Yes, the cost of gasoline is bloated. Prices in June were 15% higher than they were the same time the previous year. So that $42.50 full tank in the minivan now costs $48.88. And that $25 for my little clunker Camry now runs me $28.75.

But let's call this what it really is: a massive threat to Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) .

To fuel their gas habits, consumers clearly have to cut one weekly latte out of their budget or face the consequences of tardy credit card payments -- late fees, public shunnings, and a terse reminder from MBNA (NYSE: KRB  ) , Citibank (NYSE: C  ) , Capital One (NYSE: COF  ) , or their chosen lender. Yup, that's gonna leave a mark on your credit record. (Here's your "Dear Valued Customer: Thanks for the $24 billion" letter.)

But those punishments pale next to the cost of this crisis on Starbucks. Americans guzzle 382 million gallons of gas a day. To cover the 15%-per-gallon price hike, they'll need to come up with an extra $160 million daily to top off their tanks.

That' s 45.8 million lattes. Every day. What will baristas do with all that extra foam?

I know that some people's capital is truly constrained by unavoidable financial hardship. Those who depend on their own transportation to earn a living have my genuine sympathy for the extra burden that buying gas causes. But can any of the rest of us who pay our credit cards late honestly say that high gas prices made you do it?

I'll tell you who has a genuine excuse for bellyaching -- gas stations. Seventy percent of gas purchases are put on credit cards. Banks charge gas stations a processing fee -- an average of around 2.5% -- based on a percentage of the purchase price. In the past year, the fees owed by stations have risen by 64%, which amounts to $2.2 billion extra every year.

Now that's a lot of lattes.

Dayana Yochimmakes her coffee at home and enjoys the occasional java chip frappewhatever when she has a few extra bucks in her wallet. She owns none of the companies mentioned in this article, though she does carry anMBNA Fool credit card. The Fool'sdisclosure policyis always caffeinated.


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