Total Consumer Debt Fell In Third Quarter, as Americans Remained Cautious

Houston, Pittsburgh and Dallas bucked the trend with consumer debt increases

Nov 08, 2012, 08:15 ET from Equifax

ATLANTA, Nov. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Across the country, consumers remain cautious about taking on new debt. Overall consumer debt levels fell $256 billion in the third quarter versus the same period a year ago, according to new Credit Trends data released by Equifax (NYSE: EFX).  However, the 2.28 percent year-over-year decline is the slowest rate of decline since the second quarter of 2009, showing that some of the caution may be starting to lift.

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U.S. consumers currently owe $11 trillion across all types of debt, with mortgage debt accounting for a little more than three-quarters of that amount. Mortgage debt fell 3.4 percent in the third quarter, compared to the same period a year ago. Non-mortgage consumer debt actually increased 0.7 percent.

The consumer debt trends look different for different parts of the country. Among the largest 25 metro areas, total consumer debt continued to decline in all but three markets versus the same time a year ago.  In Houston-Galveston-Brazoria, debt climbed 1.37 percent. In Pittsburgh, it increased 1.05 percent. And in Dallas-Fort Worth, debt grew 0.08 percent.  The markets where debt declined at the fastest rates are also some of the areas hit hardest by the housing bust and the recession. The largest declines in consumer debt were in the Las Vegas, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Sacramento-Yolo and Phoenix-Mesa markets.

"Different parts of the country are at different stages of economic recovery, and that is reflected in how consumers feel about taking on more debt," said Trey Loughran, president of the Personal Solutions unit at Equifax. "We continue to see debt declining significantly in certain markets, including those in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, where the housing bust was particularly severe.  The high number of foreclosures means many consumers have reduced their debt involuntarily. Also, consumers who are current on their debt are being more disciplined in taking on new obligations and in how they manage the credit they already have."

While debt levels for mortgages fell in all top 25 markets, the declines were much more severe in Las Vegas (9.6 percent), Miami-Fort Lauderdale (8.8 percent) and Phoenix-Mesa (7.6 percent) than in Houston-Galveston-Brazoria (.1 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth (1.4 percent). Houston and Dallas had the smallest decreases in mortgage debt among top 25 markets.

On the flip side, consumers are again taking on debt when it comes to their vehicles. Across the country, auto bank and auto finance debt rose 7.1 percent, compared with the same year ago. Again, the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria consumers seem the most confident, with 10.3 percent more auto debt than a year ago, the largest increase among the top 25 metro areas. Minneapolis-St. Paul had the second biggest increase, at 9.9 percent, while Dallas-Fort Worth came in third at 8.8 percent.

"Generally speaking, consumers are showing discipline and caution about debt coming out of the recession," said Loughran. "Even though people are taking on debt to get new automobiles, we also know they are driving their cars longer. We expect the trend of the 'disciplined consumer' to continue for some time."

Total Consumer Debt for Top 25 MSAs

Q3, 2012

Top 25 Metropolitan Statistical Areas

 Q3, 2011

(previous quarter)

Q3, 2012

(current quarter)




New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island NY-NJ-CT-PA





Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County CA





Chicago-Gary-Kenosha IL-IN-WI





Washington-Baltimore DC-MD-VA-WV 





San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose CA 





Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City PA-NJ-DE-MD 





Dallas-Fort Worth TX 





Boston-Worcester-Lawrence MA-NH-ME-CT





Houston-Galveston-Brazoria TX 





Detroit-Ann Arbor-Flint MI 





Atlanta GA 





Miami-Fort Lauderdale FL 





Phoenix-Mesa AZ 





Seattle-Tacoma-Bremerton WA 





Minneapolis-St. Paul MN-WI 





San Diego CA 





Denver-Boulder-Greeley CO





Cleveland-Akron OH 





Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater FL 





St. Louis MO-IL





Portland-Salem OR-WA 





Pittsburgh PA 





Las Vegas NV-AZ 





Sacramento-Yolo CA 





Orlando FL 





All Other Areas




Grand Totals




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SOURCE Equifax