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Consumer Debt Statistics

The Role Debt Plays in the U.S. Economy

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Consumer Debt Statistics

Many consumers cut credit cards during the recession -- and left them that way.

Photo:Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Cut credit card

Only half of Americans have enough savings to pay off their credit card debt.

Photo: Chemistry/Getty Images

Consumer debt drives the American way of life. The statistics on average consumer debt show how debt increased greatly between 2002-2008. However, during the Great Recession, banks cut back on consumer lending. Then the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act increased regulations over credit cards, so they tightened credit standards. 

How does consumer debt drive economic growth? Debt allows you to buy your home, education, and car without having to save for it. As long as the economy grows, you can pay off this debt more easily in the future. That's because your house grows in value, your education allows you a better-paying job and your car...sorry, your car is just an expense. But at least auto loans create jobs for autoworkers!

There are two main types of consumer debt: revolving debt, like credit cards, and non-revolving debt, like auto loans and mortgages. Both stimulate economic growth.

Credit Card Debt

Consumer debt that's meant to be paid off every month is credit card debt, also known as revolving debt. Credit card debt reached a peak of $1.028 trillion in July 2008, an average of $8,640 per household. (Source: Federal Reserve Revised Credit Card Debt Chart)

The recession curtailed credit card debt. It fell more than 10% in each of the first three months of 2009. By April 2011, credit card debt had dropped to a low of $839.6 billion. That's an average of $7,055 of credit card debt per household. (Note: The per household estimate is based on 119 million households, or 308.7 million/2.59 persons per household. Source: U.S. Census, 2010 Data; Average Household Size)

Loans

Loans, such as auto loans, mortgages, or school loans, are a form of consumer debt called non-revolving debt. These loans are usually held for the life of the underlying asset. For a car, it's three to five years, and a home mortgage is usually 15-30 years. These loans can be paid back with fixed interest rates, or variable rates. If the borrower fails to make payments, the bank will usually reclaim the underlying asset.

Of course, the bank can't claim any asset on school loans. For that reason, most school loans are guaranteed by the Federal government. These loans have very low interest rates, to encourage higher education.That's because a more educated workforce leads to a healthier economy, in the long run.

Average Consumer Debt Statistics

Here's the month-by-month blog roll of average consumer debt statistics back to 2006. (Note: These are the figures as released. The Federal Reserve continually revises these figures. See Revisions.)

2014

  • February - Consumer debt roses to $3.129 trillion.
  • January - Credit Card Debt Fell .3%

2013

  • December - Credit Card Debt Jumps 7%
  • NovemberHoliday Shoppers Shunned Credit Cards for School Loans and Cars
  • October - Consumer Debt Jumps 7.1%
  • September - Credit Card Debt Drops 2.9%, Another Bad Sign for Retailers
  • August - Rising Interest Rates Spur 8% Increase in Loans
  • July - Credit Card Debt Down, School and Car Loans Up — Why That's Good for the Economy
  • June - School Loans Drive U.S. Debt, But It's Worth It for Many
  • May - Another Sign of Confidence - Consumer Credit Up 8.3% in May
  • April - Households Shun Credit Cards in Favor of Loans
  • March - Consumer Credit Up 3.4%
  • February - Consumer Credit Jumps 7.9%
  • January - Consumer Debt Now $22,720 Per Household

2012

  • December - Holiday Shoppers Relied Less on Credit Cards
  • November - Americans Took Advantage of Low-Interest Loans
  • October - Shoppers Resume Love Affair With Credit Cards
  • September - Credit Card Debt Down 4.1%
  • August - Consumer Debt Hits New All-time High
  • July - Consumers Said "Back Away from the Credit Card"
  • June - Credit Card Debt Shrank as Gas Prices Dropped
  • May - Why Credit Card Debt Rose 11.2%
  • April - Credit Card Debt Dropped
  • March - Credit Card, School Debt Up, Signaling Consumer Confidence
  • February - School Loans Up, Credit Card Debt Down
  • January - Americans Set New Record in School Loans

2011

  • December - Student Loans Driving Credit Boom
  • November - Consumer Debt Skyrocketing
  • October - Families Taking on Debt to Pay for Cars and Education
  • September - Average Family Still Owes More Than $6,000 in Credit Card Debt
  • August - Worried Consumers Cutting Waaay Back on Debt
  • July - Families Pay Down Credit Cards to Buy Cars and Go Back to School
  • June - Credit Card Use Up 3.9%
  • May - The Real Reasons Why Credit Card Use Was Up
  • March - American Debt Back on Upswing
  • April - Falling Debt Means Lower Consumer Confidence
  • February - Credit Card Debt Still More Than $6,500 Per Family
  • January - Credit Card Debt Back on Downward Trend

2010

  • December - Shoppers Charged Their Way Through the Holidays
  • November - Fed Student Loans Three Times 2008 Levels
  • October - Americans Switching from Credit Cards to Auto Loans
  • September - Debt Lower Than in 2005
  • August - Decline Shows Shift to Thrift
  • July - Debt Back to 2005 Levels
  • June - Spending Was Down 6.5% in June
  • April - Auto Debt Returns to Pre-Recession Levels
  • March - Americans Shun Plastic, Turn to Auto Loans
  • February - Card Use Drops Over 13%
  • January - Americans Picking Up the Plastic Again

2009

  • December - Shoppers Cut Cards for Record 11th Straight Month
  • November - Debt Dropped 18% in November
  • October - Good for You, Bad for Economy
  • September - Americans' Love Affair With Credit Is Over
  • August - Consumers Continue Cutting Credit Cards
  • July - Americans Keeping Credit Cards in Wallets
  • June - "Charge It? Not So Much
  • May - Card Debt Plummets 11%

2008

  • November - Credit Card Use Drops 3.4%
  • October - Card Use Declines As Banks Lower Limits
  • September - American Debt Grows a Mere 1.2%
  • August - Credit Crunch Spreads From Wall Street to Main Street
  • July - Card Use Levels Off
  • June - "Charge It? Not So Much
  • May - Americans Back to Familiar Refrain - Charge It!
  • April - Are Consumers Tapped Out?
  • March - Card Use Rebounds
  • February - Credit 5.9% Greater than Last Year
  • January - Consumer Debt 7% Greater than Prior Year

2007

  • November - Credit Card Use 11% Greater Than Last Year
  • August - Debt Up 8%
  • March - Debt Up 7.6% Almost $3,000 per Person

2006

  • November - Credit Debt Up 1.2% Is Yours?
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