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While American consumers are borrowing at record levels, most appear able and willing to spend, according to a survey released today by The Conference Board.
About 60% of the nation’s close to 100 million households are carrying some form of installment debt (excluding home mortgage payments). Installment debt payments are now averaging $625 a month, about the same as last year. That amounts to about 17% of average household income in the U.S., which is just under $45,000.

The survey was conducted for The Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center by NFO Research, Inc., of Greenwich, Connecticut. The survey was based on a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households.


“These figures are not daunting because most households do not appear to be incurring excessive debt,” says Conference Board economist Lynn Franco. “An overwhelming majority of these consumers have not increased their installment debt repayment burden over the past year. Debt totals keep rising not because of wanton profligacy, but because more consumers are using their credit cards for a wider range of purchases. Recent consumer activity shows that consumers are still willing and, more importantly, able to spend.”


The younger the household, the more likely it is to have installment debt outstanding. More than 85 percent of households headed by a person under age 25 has some form of debt, compared with less than 33 percent of homes headed by an individual over 65 years of age.

The higher a family’s income, the more likely it is to have some kind of installment debt. Almost 70 percent of all households earning more than $50,000 a year have outstanding debt, compared to less than half of all homes earning less than $15,000 a year.

Source: “To Owe or Not to Owe,” Special Consumer Survey Report June 1996, The Conference Board

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