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by Scott Patterson

After several years of cutting debt and spending, consumers’ finances are in better shape than they’ve been in years.

That could provide a boost to the Commerce Department’s retail sales report for June due out later this week. Retail sales in recent months, excluding auto sales, which slipped due to the Japanese tsunami, have shown a solid uptick from a year ago.

A massive expansion in credit starting a decade ago led to a jump in delinquencies and bankruptcies, as well as record levels of mortgage defaults, when the credit crisis struck in late 2007. But consumer finances have improved recently, several reports indicate.
Total consumer debt is down 8% from its peak reached in the third quarter of 2008, according to the New York Federal Reserve’s latest quarterly report on household debt and credit.

A significant factor behind the drop in consumer debt has been a 24% decline in open credit card accounts. In the first quarter, however, the number of open accounts held relatively steady.

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