Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Americans Still Paying Down Card Debt, But A Trend Reversal May Be Near

Collections & Credit Risk | Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Americans across the country continue to slash away at their credit card debt, but a return to card borrowing may be around the corner.

In 60 of the top 100 metropolitan statistical areas most plagued by credit card debt, the percentage of income owed to credit card companies last year dropped by double digits. Four states–Florida, Louisiana, Washington, and California–boasted the cities with the largest declines, according to recent research from Equifax Inc., an Atlanta-based credit bureau.

Among the cities that showed the steepest drop in percentage of income owed to credit card companies between the fourth quarter of 2010 and the fourth quarter of 2011 were Port St. Lucie, Fla (23.59%); Ocala, Fla. (20.97%); Bremerton-Silverdale, Wash. (20.62%); Shreveport-Bossier City, La. (20.10%); Bakersfield-Delano, Calif. (19.05%); Northport-Bradenton-Sarasota, Fla. (18.44%); Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (18.43%); Lakeland-Winter Haven, Fla. (18.32%); and Salinas, Ca. (17.85%).

Some of the states hardest hit by the recession showed some of the biggest reductions in credit card debt. “This suggests that consumers from these hardest-hit areas have been especially cautious in their spending and diligence in paying down their credit card debt,” Trey Loughran, president of Equifax's personal solutions business, said in a news release.

Equifax representatives were not immediately available for comment.

The reductions in card debt likely won’t adversely affect card companies for much longer, one analyst says.
“I consider this a temporary phenomenon as consumers adjust to a new level of consumption and savings,” Gil B. Luria, a managing director at Los Angeles-based Wedbush Securities, tells PaymentsSource. “Once consumers feel more secure, I would expect them to grow their spending as their income grows.”

Indeed, the data show U.S. consumers continue to de-lever their personal balance sheets, says Luria. “On one hand, savings rates are increasing as consumers come out of the recession more cautious about their finances, and on the other hand as unemployment rates decline, more people are able to reduce their outstanding credit card balances.”

While total consumer debt, including mortgages, auto loans and credit cards, has fallen by close to 11% from its peak of $12.4 trillion in October 2008, U.S. households still owe more than $800 billion to credit card companies alone, according to the Equifax report.

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