THE CRUNCH THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS

A RECORD LEVEL OF CONSUMER DEBT THREATENS TO SOUR THE SHOPPING SEASON AND SLOW DOWN THE U.S. ECONOMY

BOHDAN ZACHARY, A HOLLYWOOD producer for the cable channel E! Entertainment, has embellished his life-style with credit-card slips. He vacationed in Paris, London and Hawaii, dined at Beverly Hills restaurants and splurged on computer programs and compact discs. But Zachary, 39, recently canceled three of his four credit cards and has begun to pay off the $20,000 he piled up in plastic debt. He is also rethinking his holiday shopping list. "I'll be much more practical and much less extravagant," Zachary says. "I'll just buy things that people really need or want."

He is not alone. And the impact of such...

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