News Column

Credit Card Debt, Mortgage Balances Drop Sharply in S. Fla.

Feb. 14, 2013

Donna Gehrke-White, Sun Sentinel

South Floridians are taking their New Year's resolutions seriously when it comes to reducing their debt. Average credit card balances dropped a whopping 12 percent in January compared to a year ago, according to the consumer website CreditKarma.com.

The average credit card debt was $5,410 in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, down $746 from January 2012 when it averaged $6,156, Credit Karma reported.

Average mortgage balances also fell during the same time -- dropping $10,862, or 5 percent. The average home loan in South Florida plunged from $205,809 to $194,947 in a year as some owners paid down the principal on their mortgages, Credit Karma found.

Recession-toughened South Floridians are still focusing on paying down debt -- even as the economy improves, said Credit Karma CEO Kenneth Lin.

"The slowly improving job market has helped consumers find income needed to pay down their debt," Lin said in an email. "But there are still concerns over the economy keeping many consumers from spending too much extra money."

In fact, the entire state is in a mindset to pay down debt. Florida had the third-greatest decline in overall debt nationwide, dropping almost 3 percent in a year, from $181,241 in the last three months of 2011 to $176,337 a year later, according to an analysis by TransUnion, the credit information firm. The national debt average at $186,785 is now more than $10,000 above Florida's.

Still, the housing bust and student loan debt remain a sore spot. Florida continues to have the nation's highest mortgage delinquency rate, with 12.47 percent of Florida home loans being at least 60 days late at the end of the fourth quarter in December, TransUnion found. The national average is only 5.19 percent.

Students loans in South Florida continued to rise even if they have dropped slightly in the rest of the state: The average debt load jumped 7 percent in a year to $31,852 last January in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Credit Karma found. The state's student loan average is almost $3,000 less at $29,012, according to the website.

But rising student debt is not just limited to South Florida, Lin said.

"Student loan debt has been rising consistently across the country due to increases in tuition, prolonged unemployment -- which drives more people back into schools -- and the increase of for-profit universities," he said.

In fact, average college loan balances are now almost double the typical car loan debt in South Florida.

Auto loan balances grew nearly 6 percent in Broward and Miami-Dade, with average balances at $16,629. That was up $904 from the average $15,725 a year ago.

"The slowly improving economy has given way for consumers to buy bigger needed purchases," Lin said.

Banks are finding auto loans profitable again and are "lowering the credit requirements to increase profits," Lin added.

dgehrke@tribune.com or Twitter @donnagehrke

Chart hed

Top 5 states with highest declines in debt in a year from the fourth quarter in 2011 to 2012:

Q4 2011 Q4 2012 Pct. Change

Nevada $219,095$207,416-5.33%

Arizona $197,319$189,900-3.76%ss

Florida $181,241$176,337-2.71%

California $332,021 $324,867-2.15%

Georgia $165,940$165,534 -2.05%


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Source: (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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