M&T Bank recently released the results of a study that found that close to 80% of those who took part in a phone survey have little-to-no debt or are "comfortable" with their debt level.

Out of the 1,000 who were randomly selected for the survey, only 12% reported having "more debt than is comfortable” and only 8% “have too much debt and have trouble paying bills."

Meanwhile, credit card defaults within the industry declined during the fourth quarter of 2010, according to M&T Bank. In addition, M&T Bank's consumer loan charge-off rate dropped 23% in 2010. The U.S. savings rate, while declining slightly at the end of 2010, has risen from about 2% in January 2008 to 5.3% in December 2010.

"A lot of consumers gritted their teeth during the recession, and they're now breathing a sigh of relief. They've clearly been working hard to control their debt levels and pay bills promptly and we're now seeing a lot of signs that the resilient American consumer is in better financial health entering 2011," says Gary Keith, regional economist for M&T Bank, in a statement.

Although consumers are comfortable with their own debt levels, they are not as optimistic on the state of the economy. Fifty percent said they think the U.S. economy is “still in a recession,” a decline of only six percentage points from 10 months ago.

Younger consumers also report more difficulty with debt. Twenty-nine percent of those in the 25-49 age range reported “more debt than is comfortable” or “too much debt,” while just 7% of consumers age 18-24 and only 17% of consumers age 50 and above reported being uncomfortable or having trouble paying debts.

To reduce personal debt over the next year, 65% said they would spend less and 25% said they would use their savings. In addition, almost two-thirds of consumers reported they “definitely would” or “probably would” be able to get another bank loan if needed.

“Consumers with any debts want to make sure they're getting the best possible interest rates. With rates still being quite low, many people have the chance to refinance loans at lower rates to save money. Lowering the interest on loans helps you pay down principal faster,” says Paul Kieffer, manager of the personal financial planning department at M&T.

Kieffer offered six general tips for managing debt: set a budget and manage expenses; consolidate or refinance debts for lower rates; pay off higher-rate debts first; check your credit report regularly; regularly review the rates charged by your credit cards; consider applying for a home equity line of credit, to be used for emergencies, if you don't already have one.

Ruthie Ackerman is the online editor of Financial Planning magazine, a SourceMedia publication.Follow EBN on: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Podcasts

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