News Column

Ohioans Shed $3,000 in Debt Since Recession

April 8, 2013

Ohio residents have shed more than $3,000 in debt per person since the Great Recession.

A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates that debt for each Ohioan was $34,560 at the end of last year -- down from its peak of $37,620 in 2008.

"What we went through the past five years really had an impact on people beyond the foreclosures and the job loss," said Kathy Virgallito, regional director of partnerships for Apprisen, a credit counseling agency. "For a group of people, this has changed their overall view on managing debt."

That means more people are paying down debt and saving their money. Overall debt also dropped because credit was more difficult to obtain, experts said.

But Raj Aggarwal, Sullivan Professor of International Business and Finance at the University of Akron, warned that the stock market is recovering and so are housing values, leading people to feel wealthier and more comfortable with spending.

He wonders whether Americans will start to take on cumbersome debt again.

"It remains to be seen if they learned their lesson," Aggarwal said. "That is one of the big question marks."

Indeed, the Federal Reserve Bank report, which was released in February, shows a 0.3 percent or $31 billion uptick in overall consumer debt in the fourth quarter last year from the previous quarter. The report covered only people with a credit report, as opposed to the entire population.

Auto loans, student loans and credit-card balances all climbed, while mortgages -- the largest component of household debt -- were flat and home equity lines of credit dipped.

The Federal Reserve Bank pegged total indebtedness nationwide at $11.3 trillion.

Americans have dumped nearly $1.3 trillion in debt from a high of $12.6 trillion four years ago, the report says.

Americans with credit reports have dumped nearly $5,980 in debt per capita since the recession. That's almost double what Ohioans did, although Ohioans hold much less debt than the national average.

The per capita debt across the U.S. was estimated at $47,060 at the end of last year.

Ohioans per capita were carrying $21,490 in mortgage debt at the end of last year. They also had $4,590 in outstanding student loans, $2,940 in auto loans and $2,470 in credit-card balances.

The debt decline has both positive and negative ramifications, said Joel Elvery, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

In the long run, it's good news because people are saving. But in the short term, consumption slows and that impacts the economy, he said.

Virgallito said debt is an essential component of personal finances.

"There's good debt and bad debt," she said. "People do need to acknowledge that and work out a strategy in their approach in paying down debt or taking on new debt.

"Rather than going willy nilly using cards or taking advantage of low rates, they really need to have an overall strategy in how that plays into their personal finance goals."

The U.S. Census Bureau also recently reported that median household debt jumped from $50,971 to $70,000 between 2000 and 2011.

At the same time, the percentage of households with some form of debt dropped from 74 percent to 69 percent over the last decade.

The largest increases in median debt were experienced in households with people ages 35 to 44 (to $108,000), 45 to 54 (to $86,500) and 55 to 64 (to $70,000).

The census also reported that household wealth was on a wild roller-coaster ride over the last decade. The median net worth rose from $81,821 in 2000 to $106,585 in 2005, before declining to $68,828 in 2011, when adjusted for inflation.

"The changes in overall median net worth observed over the past decade have been driven primarily by changes in one of its major components -- equity that American households hold in their homes," Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck said in a statement.

Median net worth, excluding home equity, increased from $15,546 to $16,942.

Source: (c)2013 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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