The income gap between wealthy and average consumers in the U.S. is growing while overall debt held by consumers dropped, according to the Federal Reserve's September survey on consumer finances.

The Fed reports that interest rates on most types of consumer debt, along with families’ overall debt, decreased between 2010 and 2013. Much of the decline in debt can be explained by a large drop in the fraction of families with home-secured debt, down from 47% to 42.9%. This is, in part, explained by the much smaller drop in homeownership from 2010 to 2013.

Overall, debt obligations fell in the three-year period, according to the Fed. Median debt is down 20%, and mean debt dropped 13% for families with debt.

The percentage of families with credit card debt also declined. Median and mean balances for families with credit card debt declined 18% and 25%, respectively, and the amount of families that pay their complete credit card balances every month has increased.

Contrary to other forms of debt measured in the survey, education debt increased significantly between 2010 and 2013.

The survey compared information about family incomes, net worth, credit use and other financial resources. Nationwide, the Fed reports that the real gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.1% from 2010 to 2013 and the unemployment rate fell from 9.9% from 7.5%.

"Although aggregate economic performance improved substantially relative to the period between 2007 and 2010 surveys, the effect on incomes for different types of families was far from uniform," according to the Fed.

In the three-year period, the overall average family income rose 4% in real terms, but median income dropped 5%, consistent with rising income concentration during the period.

In 2013, medical debt (hospitals, physician groups and clinics) ranked as the largest debt category in the U.S., accounting for nearly 38% of all debt collected. Student loan debt trailed medical debt with more than a quarter of all debt collected, followed by credit card debt (approximately 10% of the total), according to findings from a survey by ACA International and Ernst & Young.

Third-party debt collectors recovered $55.2 billion last year for creditor and government clients, returning an estimated $45 billion to them and keeping some $10.4 billion in commission and fees.

The survey showed that the health of national and state economies relies on the recovery of consumer debt, according to ACA, the largest association for collection agencies. It also indicates that only a small percentage of outstanding consumer debt actually was recovered in 2013. Ernst & Young surveyed an estimated 300 collection agencies and used public data from the U.S. Census and The North American Industry Classification System.

 

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