But thanks to record-low interest rates, the cost of repaying those debts has dropped sharply. That, in turn, will free up more money for consumers to spend on cars, appliances and other goods.
Americans paid 10.7 percent of their after-tax income in interest on mortgages, credit cards and other consumer debt in this year's April-June quarter, according to the Fed. That was down from 14 percent at the end of 2007. And it's the lowest proportion since 1993.
"That's 3 percentage points of disposable income that I am no longer using to pay for stuff that I bought earlier but I can instead use to buy stuff now," noted Alan Levenson, chief economist at T. Rowe Price.
Economists note that economic recoveries after financial crises tend to be painfully slow. In part, that's because time is needed for consumers to reduce debts and for banks to recover and lend again.
Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, noted that banks have boosted lending for the past 18 months — another sign that the passage of time is helping the economy rebound.
Obama "is going to have an easier time of it ... because we're further along the road to recovery after the financial crisis," Ashworth said.
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