Applause for American Families as Credit Card Debt Drops

NEW YORK (sbup) – Whether they’re hunkering down for bad economic times or optimistic about the U.S. economy, Americans are taking steps to reduce their credit card debt, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

The agency’s most recent Quarterly Report On Household Debt and Credit says U.S. consumers have chopped their credit card balances to their lowest levels since 2002, at $672 billion.

In addition, Americans are doing a much better job of keeping up with their credit card debts, with credit card payment delinquency rates at 10.9% – the lowest level since the second quarter of 2008.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York doesn’t take a stand on whether Americans are genuinely bullish on the economy or paring back debt because they fear another economic tidal wave this year or next.

But the agency does say that consumers have used the past four years wisely, shoring up family finances, no matter what the future brings.

"The continuing decrease in [credit card] delinquency rates suggests that consumers are managing their debts better," explains Wilbert van Der Klaauw, an economist at the New York Fed.  "As they continue to pay down debt and take advantage of low interest rates, Americans are moving forward with rebalancing their household finances.”

Most of the numbers detailed in the Federal Reserve report bear out that sentiment. Here’s a snapshot of Americans and debt management:

  • Overall U.S. household indebtedness fell to $11.38 trillion, down $53 billion from the first quarter of 2012.
  • Outstanding U.S. household debt has dipped by $1.3 trillion since the third quarter of 2008 (when U.S. consumer debt was at its peak, the New York Fed reports).
  • Most of the debt decline wasn’t attributed to lower credit card debt. Instead, it was lower mortgage and home equity loan debts that fueled the drive downward in household debt, the agency says.
  • The report says that U.S. foreclosures are down as well, with only 253,000 consumers getting a foreclosure notice in the second quarter of 2012.
  • Conversely, mortgage originations – the term economists use to describe new homeowners – rose in the second quarter, to $463 billion.
  • One troubling note: U.S. student loan debt climbed $10 billion, to $914 billion for the quarter. Some economists note that the next U.S. “debt bubble” will come from save, spend, invest and borrow, visit

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