American consumers managed their credit cards more effectively in February, according to the latest report from the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices. The national default rate on bank cards fell to 3.37 percent, down 4 basis points from the previous month and down a full percentage point from the same period a year earlier.
In a statement to reporters, David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices, noted that second mortgage and auto loan default rates rose marginally in February. "Consumer credit quality remains healthy," Blitzer said, noting that the data reflected positive trends for employment and housing.
Census Bureau reports debt consolidating among fewer households
The S&P/Experian data echoes a new report from the United States Census Bureau, tracking over a decade of household financial data. Between 2000 and 2011, the Census Bureau measured a drop in the percentage of American households that carry household debt, from 74 percent to 69 percent.
The report also shows that fewer than half of American households manage credit card debt. As of 2011, just 31 percent of Americans carry a balance on their credit cards for more than a month at a time, a drop from the 51 percent figure tracked in 2000. However, median balances among households with debt grew from from $50,971 to $70,000. Census Bureau economist Marina Vornovytskyy told reporters that rising student loans and medical bills explained much of the change.
The Census Bureau's statistics reflect a roller coaster ride for many Americans over the past decade. Median net worth crept from $81,821 in 2000 to $106,585 in 2005, then collapsed to just $68,828 in 2011. Researchers attribute much of the change to the significant drop in home values across most of the country in the latter half of the decade.