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Millions of consumers changed their credit card behaviors as a result of the financial concerns brought on by the recent recession, and the result of those new attitudes toward carrying debt is still being reflected as the economy makes significant improvements.

The amount of credit card debt carried by the average American has declined significantly in the last two years, even as the number of consumers with credit cards, and the number of households themselves, has increased somewhat significantly, according to a report from the consumer advice site NerdWallet. In all, the total amount of outstanding credit card debt in the U.S. stood at $803.6 billion at the end of March, down significantly from the $842.6 billion observed at the same time in 2010.

But this change came even as the number of those carrying credit card balances increased to 46.7 percent of all households nationwide, from 43.2 percent in March 2010, the report said. Meanwhile, the number of actual households overall increased by more than 2 million to more than 118.6 million.

In all, the average American household now owes $6,772 on their credit cards, down from $7,219 two years ago, the report said. When excluding consumers who do not have a credit card, and those who do but do not carry a balance, the average debt per household stands at $14,517, down from $16,383 in March 2010.

These figures are in keeping with trends that have been observed since the end of the recession, the report said. Prior to the economic downturn, borrowers made a habit of steadily increasing their outstanding credit card debt, up to an all-time high of $17,936 in late 2008. That number has fallen significantly since, both because consumers are now more conscientious in paying down their balances every month, and also because the number of people who carry a credit card balance slipped significantly. March 2010’s percentage of households with a balance was the all-time low, having slumped from the pre-recession high of 47.8 percent, and that number has begun to creep back toward that higher point since the beginning of 2011.

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Consumers being more cautious about their credit card debt has come both because many have chosen to control spending in ways they did not before, and also as a result of increased efforts to reduce their balances.

Image: Alan Cleaver, via Flickr

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