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 on Nov. 8, 2012. 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.
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. Nonmortgage 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.
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.