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Americans cut credit card debt by $1.7 billion

There were two articles I read this Monday morning that had me feeling pretty good about ongoing credit card debt in this country. 

First came a report originally published on May 7th by the Associated Press, which explained that American consumers had cut their credit card debt by $1.7 billion in March. The $846 billion we still owe in credit card debt is 17.2 percent less than the all-time peak of $1.022 trillion that was set in the summer of 2008, which as we all know is right about the time when the floor fell out from underneath us.

So Americans are in fact reigning in the spending, and not only that - we're paying down our bad debts faster than we have in nearly five years.

Another article I read, this one from Emily Alpert at the Los Angeles Times, describes the new hesitance college students and 20-somethings have when it comes to using credit cards extravagantly. The article is essentially a celebration of how thrifty younger generations have become in the wake of the Great Recession. Those interviewed described a healthy criticism toward spending with credit cards and while overall the article felt spot on, a couple of key points were thrown in at the end that undercut some of the good news.

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First, young consumers aren't as likely to own a credit card in 2013 because frankly they're a lot harder to get approved for if you're under 21 years of age. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 made providing either a.) proof of sufficient income or b.) a co-signer a requirement for getting approved for a credit card if you're under 21. This is a far cry from a pre-Recession credit card economy that mailed 18 year olds seemingly a credit card offer a day. 

So perhaps some young consumers are going credit-less because they don't have a choice. But what about the under-30 consumers that do use credit cards? How was their debt picture looking?

According to a study by the Ohio State University, not great. The survey explains that while young consumers carry less credit card debt, they're also paying it back a snail's pace compared to older generations that simply isn't sustainable for long-term economic growth. 

I've read debt-related news that maintains that while many young Americans are carrying less debt than previous generations, the debts we are carrying (I'm 26, by the way) are mostly considered "bad debts". Credit cards, auto loans - these types of debts are tied to expenses that don't appreciate over time (like a house). Essentially, today's America isn't investing in a lot of assets, so while our overall debt picture looks OK now, long-term it could pose some serious problems for individuals and American society as a whole.

All that said, if March, 2013 is a sign of things to come, maybe we're ready as a whole to start paying down our debt at a quicker pace. A couple more months of rapid debt reduction would make me feel a lot better, but as they say, any good news is worth hearing.

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Jason Bushey's picture

Jason Bushey is the former Editor and Vice President of Creditnet. Jason is a Burlington, Vermont native who moved to sunny San Diego after earning a Bachelor's Degree in English and Political Science at the University of Vermont ('09). When he's not sharing his take on credit cards, administrating the Creditnet Forum or blogging about all things related to credit, you can probably find him cheering on the Green Bay Packers (He's an owner!) or running up and down the streets of SoCal.

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