Debt Denial

Average American's Financial Distress

Posted on Wednesday, September 1, 2010

High levels of unemployment and the strain of housing costs continue to keep consumers mired in financial distress, according to data released by the nonprofit credit counseling agency CredAbility.

The Atlanta-based organization’s quarterly Consumer Distress Index measures the financial condition of the average U.S. household. While economic and mortgage duress is the underlying theme of the agency’s second-quarter findings, CredAbility noted that consumers’ net worth has actually increased for the past five quarters as they continue to pay down debt and, in some parts of the country, benefit from stabilizing housing prices.

For the quarter ended June 30, 2010, American households scored a 65.2 on the index’s 100-point scale, up from 65.0 in the first quarter of 2010, yet still below the score of 66.5 for the same period one year ago.
A score below 70 indicates a state of financial distress, and CredAbility’s index shows that the average U.S. consumer has been in financial distress for eight consecutive quarters.

For the first time, CredAbility is also releasing consumer distress scores for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The agency says the second-quarter data reveals stark regional differences. Only nine states, primarily in the upper Midwest and Great Plains, achieved scores above the distress threshold of 70 points.

Among the states, Nevada posted the worst score on the index with at 59.23, while North Dakota had the best performance, with a score of 78.95.

“The average American remains gripped by financial distress,” said Mark Cole, CredAbility’s COO and executive responsible for the CredAbility Consumer Distress Index. “The modest improvements we see in housing and net worth show incremental, but positive signs of stabilization. But to use a medical analogy, the patient is still in critical condition. Until housing and employment markets improve significantly, we cannot expect to see significant recovery in these numbers.”

Cole added, “We do find some areas of the country where consumers are more financially stable, but these are in the states that account for only a small portion of the total U.S. population.”

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