Millions of Americans made significant efforts to reduce the amount they owed on all types of accounts in the immediate wake of the recent recession, and now new data shows just how successful those attempts to clear balances were.
The total amount of American families that carried any amount of debt slipped between 2007 and 2010, according to the latest Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances. In all, just 74.9 percent of families nationwide said they had any kind of outstanding debt at the end of 2010, down from 77 percent in 2007. But at the same time, the median value of those balances carried by indebted families was largely the same as it was three years prior, as was the percentage of families whose outstanding obligations totaled more than 40 percent of their income.
This trend came despite consumers' rigorous and successful attempts to reduce their personal reliance upon credit cards, the report said. For instance, the average portion of all outstanding balances carried on consumers' credit cards declined to 2.9 percent in 2010, the lowest level seen since 2001, and well below 2007's total of 3.5 percent. It was also lower than 2004's total of 3 percent.
This came as many consumers slashed their balances totally, the report said. In all, just 39.4 percent of all U.S. families carried any sort of balance, down from 46.1 percent in 2007, and this was a trend largely reflected among nearly all demographic groups. The only groups that saw debt increase over this period were households with a head aged 75 and older, and families with a head who did not have a high school diploma.
And as more families cut their balances to zero, those who did carry some amount of credit card debt also reduced that total, the report said. In all, median balances dropped 16.1 percent from 2007 to a total of roughly $2,600, and average balances slipped 7.8 percent to $7,100. Of the 68 percent of families that had credit cards in 2010, just 55.1 percent carried a balance. That's down from 72.9 percent who had cards of their own, and 61 percent who owed money on them.
Further, the number of credit cards held by families declined over the three-year period as well, the report said. In 2010, just 32.7 percent of households had four credit cards or more, down from 35 percent in 2007. Those with three cards dipped to 10.6 percent from 12.1 percent, and those with just one card declined to 12.5 percent from 13.1 percent.
However, it is also important to note that during this period, lenders wrote down large amounts of outstanding debt on those accounts that was deemed uncollectable. The default rates experienced by all major lenders during this time set all-time records, and caused millions of consumers to see their credit ratings slip into subprime territory.