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June card debt falls. Really?

By Janna Herron · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

Have you heard the phrase: There are lies, there are darn lies and there are stats? This blog coupled with Tuesday's post demonstrates how stats, in an effort to explain what's happening, sometimes can muck up the waters instead.

CreditKarma.com released its monthly numbers on consumer credit, which shows that the average credit card debt per household fell to $5,576 in June from $5,637 in May. The average debt has declined more than 8 percent since the beginning of the year, when it was $6,069.

On Tuesday, we found out that credit card debt grew by the largest month-over-month percentage since November 2007, a month before the recession officially began, according to stats released by the Federal Reserve. Americans added a whopping $8 billion to their credit card balances for a grand total of $870.2 billion.

(Fortunately, that is far less -- to the tune of $150 billion less --  than where balances were in the middle of 2008.)

What a difference a month makes, right? CreditKarma.com's data are from June, while the Fed's figures are from May. Not so fast. CreditKarma.com found that credit card debt also dipped in May to $5,637 from $5,650 in April.

In fact, CreditKarma.com's historical stats show that the average household credit card debt has fallen 8 percent since the beginning of the year, while the Fed's numbers reveal that revolving balances have increased by almost 1 percent during that time.

Of course, each has their own sources, and they are measuring slightly different stats, since one is per household and the other is in aggregate. Plus, the Fed's "revolving credit" data are comprised mostly of credit card loans, but includes also other types of credit such as overdraft plans.

The real story is this: Whether consumers pulled out their credit cards in record numbers in May, they are still charging well below than what they used to despite the May blip.

Since the Great Recession, consumers have been edgy about borrowing more (and lenders have been jittery about giving out credit). Everyone is recovering from the gluttony.

What about you? Are you charging more than you used to? Saving more? Or, paying down debt?

Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron

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