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The recent economic downturn forced many consumers across the country to reassess the ways in which they handle aspects of their everyday finances, and that included making significant efforts to scale back credit card use and debt. One group that seems to have taken to that tack in particular is young people.

Today, Americans under the age of 35 are making significant strides in an effort to cut their reliance on debt in general, and consequently have slashed not only their outstanding balances, but also their debt-to-income ratios, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. Through the end of 2010, consumers up to the age of 34 had debt-to-income ratios averaging 1.46, down significantly from the 1.63 in 2007, right around the onset of the recession. However, the most recent levels were still rather elevated from those observed in 2001 (1.04) and 1983 (0.73).

On the other hand, it seems many older consumers took on more debt over the course of the recession, perhaps as a consequence of their having to rely on credit cards and other types of financing after facing prolonged bouts of unemployment, the report said. In 2010, the average debt-to-income ratio for those 35 and over was lower than those for younger consumers, at just 1.22, but was also higher than the levels observed in 2007, when it stood at 1.08. Further, that was a significant increase from the 0.75 seen in 2001, as well as only 0.65 in 1983.

Part of the reason younger people might have more debt than income in general than their older counterparts is their student loan bills, which comprised 15 percent of all debt held by those under 35 in 2010 (up from 9 percent just three years earlier), the report said. That compares with student loan balances of just 3 percent for everyone 35 and up. On the other hand, older borrowers also had credit card balances making up 3 percent of their obligations, as opposed to just 2 percent for those 34 and younger.

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Consumers of all ages will need to be careful about how they approach their various outstanding balances in the future, as this can obviously impact all aspects of their finances. Recent data shows that consumers are once again starting to take on more debt in general, and delinquencies may be ticking up somewhat once again as well.

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