Falling credit default rates signal optimism

(CBS News) A new report shows Americans are having a lot less trouble with debt these days. It's an important step forward and we look at how through one person paying off her debts.

In Dallas, Sherry Maffia used to dread getting her credit card bills.

"I maxed out Discover, American Express and Visa," she said.

The 62-year-old administrative assistant fell $15,000 in debt -- in part paying for her late mother's funeral expenses. But slowly, she's been paying down those debts. Now she looks forward to the mail delivery.

"Because it won't be long and it'll be a zero balance," she explained.

And across the country, consumer credit default rates have been declining steadily. A new survey shows default rates for mortgages and bank cards have plunged to their lowest levels since the end of the recession. The bank card default rate, which soared above 9 percent in 2010, has dropped to 3.75 percent. The mortgage default rate has fallen from a peak of more than 5.5 percent to less than a quarter of that today.

Max Wolf, chief economist for Greencrest Capital, acknowledged that this has been a long time coming: "It's an unambiguous positive. We want to see the default rate go down. It is a healing sign. It means the wound is sort of healing over."

Sherry Mafia, who refused to file for bankruptcy, will finally pay off that $15,000 debt in December.

"It's euphoria," she said. "I just count the payments, how many more payments until that will be paid off. And it's wonderful."

After nearly five years on a tight budget, her credit record will be clear again.

"I didn't think I could do it. I really didn't. But I did," she said.

The default rate for auto loans did tick up slightly last month, but it's still near historic lows. And the overall default rate on consumer loans has declined now for nine straight months.

  • Anthony Mason

    CBS News senior business and economics correspondent; Co-host, "CBS This Morning: Saturday"

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