Consumer debt is falling in most major U.S. metropolitan areas, according to new data from Equifax’s National Consumer Credit Trends Report. While the sharp declines experienced by some markets in 2012 have leveled off, overall consumer debt fell to $10.92 trillion in the first quarter of this year, down from $11.02 trillion in the first quarter of 2012.
“It is encouraging to see credit demand and supply continuing to come into balance,” says Trey Loughran, president of Equifax Personal Solutions. “Lack of access to credit impedes growth, and access to credit keeps the wheels of the economy moving.”
Mortgage debt write-offs and consumer efforts to pay down mortgage obligations have contributed to the decline in total consumer debt. In the past year, total mortgage and home equity debt obligations dropped 3.1 percent to $8.4 trillion
But other forms of consumer debt increased in the same time period. Total non-mortgage debt owed by consumers jumped 7.1 percent to $2.5 trillion.
Consumers living in the Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix areas experienced the biggest declines in total debt outstanding over the past year, with consumer debt falling by 5.9 percent, 5.5 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively.
In many others cities, consumers saw modest decreases in consumer debt, which shows that they have adopted a more disciplined approach to credit.
“We are seeing changes in consumer behavior,” Loughran says. “People are paying down their debt faster and taking their access to credit more seriously. Many consumers got into trouble with credit before the recession, spent too much and are now approaching spending with greater caution.”
But consumers living in the Dallas, Houston, St. Louis and Pittsburgh areas saw their consumer debt creep up from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013, and Houston saw total mortgage debt also increase over the same timeframe. Houston was the only metro among the four to see mortgage debt edge upward.
These four metro areas have diversified economies that have been benefiting from strong growth and relatively low unemployment, which has supported consumer willingness to take on additional debt.
Below is a list of total consumer debt in the top 25 metropolitan statistical areas: