Recession’s Silver Lining: Consumer Debt On The Decline

Credit Karma recently released its U.S. Credit Score Climate Report reflecting data for July 2009. It revealed a few interesting trends, the most interesting being the continued decline of consumer debt for those currently holding a credit card. This means that, overall, Americans are paying off more than we are spending.

Of course, this is bad news for retailers, and bad news for the overall debt-driven economy. However, our personal economies seem to be improving (assuming you have avoided a layoff or similar household emergency). I’m encouraged to find out people are paying off debt, particularly credit card debt.

In our own household we have reduced outstanding credit card debt by about 30% since May of this year. We have been 100% sold out, gazelle intense about being credit card debt free, and if it weren’t for a few family emergencies we would have closer to 50% paid off by now. The bright side is we did not accumulate any new debts during these mini-crises.

How are others doing? Here’s a look at the Credit Karma survey results from last month.

Average consumers had:

  • $6,818 in credit card debt
  • $193,036 in home mortgage loans
  • $52,559 in home equity loans
  • $14,449 in auto loans
  • $26,368 in student loans

$26,000 in student loan debt? Yikes! That figure and the home equity loans stood out to me. Combined, those two categories alone represent nearly $80,000. Wonder how many people took out those loans for the tax deduction on interest, or to pay off other debt, and just ran it back up again. I also can’t help but feel bad for new graduates who racked up thousands in student loans to find one of the worst job markets in recent history. While the outstanding debt balances still seem high, I’m hopeful that the downward trend continues.

Another nugget from the survey is that Midwesterners seem to have the lowest amount of debt. Wonder what lessons from the Midwest we could learn throughout the rest of the country? I know in many Midwestern states there is a thread of self-sufficiency running through many households not felt in other parts of the country. Homes are probably more reasonably priced than in other areas of the country, too.

I’m curious to hear from you on this one. Have you also paid down debts during the recession? Do you think you would have done it otherwise, or was the negative economy a motivating factor?

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